Thursday, January 22, 2009

CHAPTER 16

I am in the back seat of this giant car that keeps making wrong turns and ending up stuck, cornered, boxed in, lost and peeling out in parking lots, with these shit-for-brains up front who can’t figure out where the hell to make a left turn, or any kind of turn that’ll take us in a direction that just maybe might bring us to our destination. I am in the back of this car shaking and watching traffic lights change.

There is some kind of nervousness building in me, some kind of psychotic energy pooling in the arid places where my reserves of energy used to reside. My head tilts forward and knocks against the leather seat in front of me. I don’t need an air bag. Something tense is straining me and filling my veins with paranoid blood. My consciousness is just kind of floating out there around me. My head is no longer my own.

Get a hold of yourself. Stop this querulous behavior. You must intrepidly lead this mission on to the Rio hotel. You must guide this misfit-filled vehicle like a golden chariot to its destination where there will be plentiful arrays of breakfast foods and all other types of Pan-Asian or Tex-Mex or Southwestern Style Mexican cuisine under heat lamps; salad bars replete with the likes of sushi, croutons, shrimp on ice, beef cutlets, and twelve types of salad dressing; bottomless cups of coffee and champagne; whopping heaps of undercooked bacon and sausage, all in plenum, all in a state of irrefutable grandeur, while sfumato tones of color, soft pale blues and ubiquitous shades of pink, cover Redwood-tall walls leading up to a ceiling higher than any possible sky. You must not crash. Do not heed these warning signs. Speak loud! Speak true! Give directions to these morons who steer this Mercedes in all directions like rats lost in a maze. Live free or die!

The Mercedes sped wildly into the Valet Parking Zone of the Rio hotel, almost knocking off the car door of an elderly couple’s luxury Sedan when they idiotically opened the door at the wrong time, i.e. with us coming up fast on their left. Lines of cars were pulling in to be parked under a concrete overhang-canopy-type-thing. It was kind of like a gas station, but much larger and with long slabs of raised cement between the lanes instead of gas pumps. Some people stood on the long cement slabs waiting for their cars to be returned to them by young valets in red coats who made mad, purposeful dashes all over the place, keys jangling off of the springs and loops of metal rings attached to their belts. Our valet was a young kid. Very cool, calm, and collected, and, we all thought, a bit high on something. It was hard to tell though. Everyone in Vegas seems as if they might be abusing some sort of mind-altering drug. Maybe it’s just the weather. Maybe it was just us.

Leroy got out of the car first and stretched his arms up in the air, yawning like a man waking from a long, deep slumber. The valet was writing something on a ticket. Leroy spoke first, “Hey. So, um, you old enough to drive?”

The valet smiled politely. “No. But I still can park it somewhere for you.”

“Okay,” Leroy chimed. “Make sure you are very careful with this car son. It’s worth more than any of us here, all combined, and we can’t have it be damaged or degraded by any hot-rod racing kid. This is an important and powerful machine. It must be parked in the shade. The sun will eat away the interior, see?” Leroy showed him the guts of the car, all covered with various articles of dirty clothing and junk food wrappers and water bottles and other unmentionable items of decadence.

“Sure thing sir,” the kid said and handed Leroy the ticket he’d written out for us.

Leroy squinted at the paper in his hands. “Ah. Well, yes. Everything seems to be in order here. This will do…you take care of this vehicle and we will also take care of you,” Leroy said winking in a very over exaggerated manner. “And by the way, how would one find his way to the food court?”

“Sorry sir?”

“Um, well, you see we need to masticate on something esculent…some edibles, some kind of breakfast buffet. The Rio…the Rio famous breakfast buffet. The champagne….orange juice…all you can eat like Sizzler or some such thing.”

“There are three breakfast buffets in the Rio.”

“Three! My God! What the hell kind of show is this…what kind of sick and demented kind of place serves three different buffets?”

The valet laughed nervously. “Just go through the lobby there and follow the signs. The one on the first floor is the most popular. You’ll see a big line of people.”

“Ah. How very egalitarian. That sounds like the place.”

Chet and I concurred.

The valet hopped in the car and drove off very fast. Leroy screamed, “Slow down you sumbitch! That is my lively hood you’re racing around in!”

We walked on into the lobby. The air-conditioning once again seemed like a Godsend. The sign led us to the Buffet where, just as the valet had said, a prodigious throng of people was waiting in line. The line snaked around the corner and doubled up on itself, fluffy red velvet ropes partitioning off the hungry denizens, barely keeping them from clawing each other for a closer spot in line. One of Chet’s brothers and his girlfriend were already in line. We joined them in the midst of all the rabble.

“This is quite a crowd,” I mentioned just to say something. “Is it even breakfast time still?”

Chet’s brother said, “Sure. It’s always breakfast time in Vegas.”

“It’s damn crowded in here. Look at all these people standing around. Where do they come from?” queried a miffed Chet.

Leroy started in, “The hoi polloi. The salt of the earth. The bored and disaffected. The huddled and hungry masses, expendable, botched and always burrowing in the ground. The mundane and ordinary. They all come and stand in line and wait to be fed like pigs at a trough.”

“They pay up the ass for it.” I said. “And they get champagne.”

I was starting to crash. The crowded line wasn’t helping. Claustrophobia was starting to set in and the shakes were coming back, only this time they were starting in the backs of my legs. Never a good sign. My throat was dry and my tongue felt like it was starting to blister. I rolled it around in my mouth and it felt like I was licking sandpaper. My palms were sweating profusely. Closing my eyes I tried to keep it together.

Chet’s other brother showed up with Snaggle. She looked like somebody’d put her in a washing machine during the spin cycle. We all made friendly eye contact. Her crooked tooth sticking out of her mouth and digging into her lip was all I could see. Everything else was kind of a blur. The line started moving a little and I found a post to lean up against. Unfortunately the post was not secured to the ground and I knocked it over bringing the thick, red, velvet dividing rope down with it. Leroy saved me from falling on my ass. People in line got a little surly but I apologized by waving my hand in repentance. The rope was re-secured and everybody was okay. I was really sweating by this point. The next time I leaned against something I made sure it was a wall. It seemed to hold steady

Snaggle was talking. “So this guy, this fucking Security like rent-a-cop guy is like standing there next to me now, and I’m just feeling really fucking nauseous, like, you know, when you just know that you’re going to vomit and there’s nothing you can do about it, and my face must’ve been like, you know, that look you get when you feel like, that probably like hopeless and defeated look? Well, so I’m like standing there by these slot machines and I kind of just try to move off by myself, you know, so I could be alone. You know, like when you feel like that and you just don’t want to be around anybody, like you don’t want anyone close by. So I just keep trying to move off by myself and this fucking security guy keeps getting closer. He looked at me, and my eyes must’ve been like fucking crazy, like, my head was like totally spinning and I just couldn’t communicate at all. And he goes like, ‘Hey, are you ok? Miss? Are you Ok?’ And he keeps getting real close to me. But I just want him to go away, and I can’t talk, you know, because I’m like totally going to throw-up. I can feel it in my throat. And I’m like holding my hand on my mouth, as people tend to do in these like situations, and I’m like signaling to the guy with my hands to get away from me. But he just keeps getting close and calling me miss and asking if I’m on drugs. When he said that I was like, fuck this, you know…I was like, what the fuck are you talking about you fucking asshole?…I’m going to fucking puke. I was like so fucking pissed. But I couldn’t do anything because I felt so sick. And he kept being like, ‘Are you on drugs miss?’ and he was really close, like all up in my face, and I moved against a wall finally and just stuck my hand out and then I vomited all over the carpet right there by the wall. And then he gets on his little walkie-talkie or whatever, and he’s maybe like calling a clean-up crew or something, but the little fucker finally went away and left me alone. God, it was so fucking humiliating. Are you on drugs? What the fuck. I felt so sick. And I went into the bathroom and puked some more. But, you know what’s fucking crazy? When I came out and went back to where my vomit was it was already cleaned up. Like it had never happened. Now that’s some like really fucking quick spill cleanup service, you know?”

The line had moved a little more and we were getting a little closer to the place where we supposed you paid for the buffet and were allowed to go in the eating area. Looking over at Leroy I noticed that he was holding a drink in a plastic cup with a lime and ice in it. It looked very refreshing. I asked him for a sip, thinking it would soothe my parched throat, but it tasted like a rotten sour tart and I almost spit it back up.

“What the hell kind of drink is that?”

Leroy smiled, “Campari…on ice.”

“It’s awful.”

“Suit yourself,” he said and went on talking with the group.

My conversational skills had completely left me. All I could do was stand there and sweat and shake. My head was starting to expand and blinking my eyes was becoming a chore. The pit of my stomach was gnawing at the lining, trying to eat its way out. The ice in Leroy ’s drink looked so good. I wanted it in my mouth but I couldn’t speak. I just reached over and dipped my fingers in his cup, trying desperately to grab an ice cube, and failing.

Leroy looked at me and shouted, “What the fuck are you doing man! Did you just put your fucking fingers in my drink? What the fuck!”

No words were coming to me. I was so vertiginous and faint that I felt like I was going to just slide down the wall. Small tremors started shooting through me, panic, nausea and then stomach pain and then a burning that went from my throat all the way down to my toes, and my eyes couldn’t focus on anything. From time to time I’d look up between tremors and smile and try to pretend everything was okay. But I knew it wasn’t. The periods between tremors were becoming shorter and shorter. My head was literally dripping with sweat. It rolled off my face and onto the ground in golf-ball sized plops, splashing there below my feet. I grabbed my head and nothing was alright. My breathing was getting very rapid. My heart felt like it would beat right out of my chest. I tried grabbing some ice out of Leroy ’s cup again but he just slapped my hand away cursing. I kept rubbing my hands through my hair and sticking out my lower jaw to blow cool air up onto my forehead. It was too hot…everything, everywhere…heat…all the air was stale, filled with suffocating heat…all of my limbs were loaded with sweat…my neck didn’t want to hold up my head anymore…I wanted out but there was nowhere to go…

For some reason I was holding my jacket. I held it up to Leroy and told him to hold it. He took it and looked at me in a very peculiar way. That was it. I couldn’t be in that line anymore. I had to leave. I had no choice. I got up some strength and ducked under the rope and left the line, my feet almost tripping me as I wavered on unsteadily. There was a bowling alley across the way. Giant glass windows were the walls and you could stand outside and watch people bowl. It looked very cold inside. At the entrance I was stopped by a very classy lady who inquired how many there were in my party. I told her I’d be right back, realizing then that my wallet was in my jacket, which I’d for some reason given to Leroy to hold. Going anywhere without my wallet scares me, so I headed back across the hall to the buffet line where Leroy was holding my jacket.

I yelled at Leroy from what seemed like a long ways away, “Hey. Give me that jacket back, you thief!”

Now he was looking at me very strangely. He held it up in the air giving me a look of, ‘Well then come and get it asshole.’

I kept signaling with my arms and making grunting noises that resembled words only to me. A lot of people in line started staring at me. Leroy held out my jacket. He started asking me why I’d given it to him in the first place, and I dove into the crowd and snagged it away from him. He just laughed at me as I walked off.

Back at the bowling alley entrance I met the Fancy Greeter Lady again.

“So, how many were in your party sir?”

I took a deep breath. “I just want to sit at the bar and drink really tall glasses of really cold ice water.” I measured out the size of the glass with my hands as I spoke.

She didn’t flinch, saying, “Right this way sir,” leading me to the long bar at the back. I sat down on a stool and rubbed my hands along the black, shiny Formica surface of the bar, which was very cool to the touch, and I rubbed my hands along it as if praying and giving thanks for all nice and cool things in the world.

The bar tender came along and asked me what I was having.

“I just want,” I said licking my chapped lips with my desiccated tongue, “a really cold and really tall glass filled with ice and really cold water.” It was as if I were uttering the last words ever to be spoken on the earth. I was at the limits of my language. Only symbols and gestures would work for me from now on. I was betting everything, going all in on this last phrase that I hoped would bring relief to my condition. There was nothing more left I could do. This was it. My last chance for salvation in this consumer-frenzied excuse-of-an-exhibition of a place, this pseudo-world of money and more money surrounded by all the things that money can buy, self-styled monuments to excess, to capital and gain and luck and the American dream and, after all, what more was this place than just a suped-up extension of our nation, of our lavishness and desires for decadence, of our disconnection from anything real, from anything that matters, from even mattering ourselves because our whole lives were really just endless vacations from our souls, with a few side trips to enjoy the view.

The waiter brought me a highball glass filled with water and ice. I drank it slowly and savored the feeling of the cold on my lips and the crisp and refreshing taste of the water. The simple joy of a glass of water when you’re thirsty, there’s nothing quite like it. Drinking it slowly I started to feel better. The cold sweats and heat flashes abated, and I was starting to twitch around a lot less. Sitting there slowly drinking my ice water I started getting more of my senses back, and started caring less about eating breakfast. I just wanted to sit there and drink that water forever. It was like being restored, like a wave of good, life-giving energy was slowly filling up my body again. Not too different from the way cocaine feels when it first starts swimming around in your veins. Only now it was a relaxed and thoughtful disposition that overcame me. I started thinking about this chapter in David Copperfield entitled, “My Dissipation,” and started saying it over and over again under my breath at the bar…my dissipation, my dissipation, my dissipation…I’m not sure why. I began to smile and feel good and I kept drinking that water and taking the ice cubes in my mouth and letting them melt there and the cold water would trickle down my throat and I just wanted to sit there and sit there, without anybody ever bothering me again.

The bar tender asked if I were okay and I shot him a thumbs up. He went back to the other end of the bar to do something else.

What a guy.

I sat there and drank my ice water and rubbed my hands on the cool Formica of the bar, listening to bowling balls thud and roar, and the sudden deafening splatter and crash of pins being knocked over, and the soft hum of people talking all together, all mixed-up in a cloud of voices that didn’t speak individual words but just made a steady, ineffable tumbling of sound.

Sitting there for what seemed like hours I made up a song that I kept singing to myself, sometimes only in my head, sometimes maybe out loud too. It went:

Together, is where I belong
Here,
Together, is where I am
What are you doing
Over there
Not together,
Where I belong
Where I am together
Yes
Together
Where….I…..Belong

I’m not a good singer but it was a pretty good tune and after a while I couldn’t get it out of my head. I started using a really high voice, almost a falsetto, for some parts, and started drawing out the word, “together,” making it last for a really long time like, “toooo…ge…th…” and then pausing on certain syllables and changing the tune around a little and using a really deep crooning voice over the one word phrases. Basically just acting like a nut. It kept me entertained for quite some time. When the water was gone I started sucking on the few remaining ice cubes. The tune carried me off into a world where my actions had no meaning, where not even the movements I made mattered, where everything was just a lost inescapable nothingness, a blank slate where nothing ever happened, and my little waves I made with the song were keeping me afloat above all the inchoate waters below. It felt good not to have to try. Everything just was. And that was all that mattered. Together, here, where I belong.

You can only sit at a bar by yourself drinking ice water and singing to yourself for so long. Eventually you have to get up and pretend you have somewhere you’d rather be. It just so happened that brunch was starting to sound like a better idea, and after my rejuvenation in the bowling alley I decided I could handle the crowd again and went back over to the buffet line. I was humming a song that went, “You are a stupid, stupid, idiot…” to the tune of The Shandels, ‘My Baby Does The Hanky-Panky,’ as I walked over. It made me feel better.

They’d moved up in line quite a ways. I clawed my way through a bunch of hapless jerks and joined them, the whole while still singing that idiot song. People tended to let me through without much of a fight. Some large, balding man with Ray-Ban sunglasses on was chewing Leroy ’s ear off when I arrived. The guy had on shorts and fancy sandals with socks, and his shirt was tucked in. I think people who tuck their shirts in should be taken out and shot. Leroy just kept nodding as the guy went on about real estate, about how and when to buy houses and all the idiosyncratic ways of deciding about renting or sitting on a property for so long before…well, some such kind of thing. I wasn’t paying that close of attention. The guy sure could talk. I just stood there and kind of looked around and tried to test my legs to see how fast they’d move if I had to run on them in some kind of emergency. For some reason I was expecting one. After trying to follow the balding man’s lecture on the ins and outs of the housing market, and failing, I decided to concentrate on finding out how to pay for this brunch we were getting ever so close to having.

Glittering, golden and ten-feet wide stood two rows of ATM-like machines, though much larger and taller, which took your debit card and gave you a receipt for $20.79. That was the price of the brunch with tax. It seemed odd to be getting this little ticket to be let inside this airplane-hangar sized dining area to run around and scoop as much food as you possibly could onto a plate, but this seemed to be the system. The machines took cash too, but the card seemed a much easier, stress-free alternative. People were forming two separate lines to use the machines and then seemed to be handing the receipts they received to a ticket-taker like man who would then, after waiting for some uncertain thing to happen for an unspecified and always changing length of time, unclasp the end of a velvet rope to let a new party in. There seemed to be no structure to this besides the Ticket Taker’s whim. If he felt like letting a whole gaggle of people in, he would. And if the little miser felt like holding up the line for a bit, while he stared off at something and chewed on a toothpick, then he’d hold the clasp closed and make everybody wait behind the rope. I was hoping we wouldn’t get on this guy’s bad side, as I was starting to get my appetite back, and didn’t want any further complications or hold-ups. Also, the large, bald, ray-banned man was really starting to flap his lips around and I didn’t want him to start jabbering at me. Leroy was trying to act like he was paying attention, but I knew he wasn’t. Because my powers of speech were still limited to just humming songs I couldn’t do much to help him out. So I wandered down narrow and littered dead-end alleyways in my mind, and Leroy stood helpless at the gates to hell, wondering about salvation in the form of a three-egg omelet and buttered toast. The line moved inches at a time. We moved with it as if caught in the churning thrash of a puissant, slow, and steady rip tide that was tugging us along to somewhere unknowable.

The unknowable place ended up being an empty table in the dining area of The Rio’s Grand Bunch Buffet. We all sat down reaching for silverware and plates. Finding none we got up to explore this gut-stuffing play land. Plates were hot and stacked in metal cylinders inside of carts. As soon as you pulled one off the stack another popped up. This was very convenient. I wandered around with my plate, still kind of dizzy and flashing in and out of general malaise and a sticky kind of wide-eyed wonder. We were surrounded with food. On all sides were loads of foods on carts covered with tilted glass windows with just enough space beneath the glass to stick an arm under and load up your plate…

…waffles, french toast, syrup and powdered sugar, blueberry muffins in a titanic tub, bacon of a hundred pigs all stuck together in a quivering greasy pile of underdone flesh, bright yellow mounds of supersaturated egg batter barely cooked and scrambled and dripping wet, an omelet bar with more fixings— including very odd ones like pecans and fish eggs—than could ever fit into an omelet, sushi rolls, burnt and battered lamb chops, rigid fruit and underdone potatoes in mass graves, beef brisket steaming under a heat lamp where some guy in a white hat stood and would chop off a rare thin strip for you, country fried steak covered in a murky turgid gravy, corn-on-the-cob, clam chowder, a salad bar of neon green lettuce, colossal vats of various dressings like drums of crude oil under the lights…

I scooped about a quart of the watery egg matter on to my plate where it jiggled like yellow jell-o, and grabbed about a dozen sticky pieces of under-cooked bacon. That was about all I could handle. Everything else seemed too complicated. I wandered around with my plate hot in my hands, looking everywhere for help, some kind of relief from this over stimulation, this weariness from having too many choices, too much and not enough, and I almost lost the plate a few times, but righted it just in time before the slippery eggs spilled all over the floor. People everywhere were walking around with their plates filled, looking like they knew exactly what they were doing, like they did this all the time and like they’d probably stay here all day slowly sampling all the wide ranging sundry items at all the food stations, shoveling it in with a unfettered gulosity until the cameras on the ceiling signaled the security to come remove these all-you-can-eaters from their booths, where they sat hunched and drooling over one last plateful of gelatinous steak and slithering masses of potatoes.

Thinking that I’d better sit down, as I was getting pretty dizzy at this point, I tried to find a familiar face to lead me back to where my party was supposed to be seated. Everybody looked like an alien. Their heads were like milk cartons. Jewelry was all over the walls. Bright lights were blinding me at every turn. I stared at signs but they were useless. Finally Chet walked by, almost knocking me over, and I followed him back to our table.

Snaggle and Chet’s brother sat across from Leroy and me. For some reason we didn’t have any napkins. This was really bothering Chet’s brother, who kept saying, “Where can we get some napkins up in this piece?” I didn’t like talk like that. I turned to Leroy, who had loaded up four plates with all kinds of dinner, lunch, brunch, linner, breakfast, or, I guess you could say dinchfast foods. After taking a few bites of something he would put the plate behind him on a ledge up above our heads and start in on anther plate. Needless to say, he’d been back and forth a few times to the food counters.

“Where the fuck do I put these plates when I’m done?” He’d scowl lifting a plate above his head. “There’s no room for all this.”

A waitress came and put little glasses of champagne all over the table. Leroy drank two of them right down.

Chet’s brother made some kind of signal to a waiter, a long-faced Eskimo, who darted over to us, overzealous and eager to please, holding a tray of empty glasses in one hand and a towel in the other. His eyes were darting about like trapped flies, and the guy had quick feet too, at least a quick first step. I could tell. He was built for speed. Before I could blink he was upon us, standing at the edge of the table nodding and smiling and saying, “Yes, yes…oh, yes, yes,” in these little staccato bursts.

“We need some napkins here,” said Chet’s brother, holding his silverware up and making motions that I assumed were supposed to mean that forks and knives were always to be wrapped up inside napkins, but it kind of looked like a onanistic gesture also, and I wasn’t sure what this slick Eskimo was thinking. He looked a bit confused.

After a few more nods the waiter said, “Oh. Yes, Ah ha! Aye EEE!” He screamed in some kind of unnamable high-pitched squeal. “I will bring to you!” And he was gone off running somewhere with his tray and towel.

Some time passed and Chet’s brother was really starting to make a mess of himself sitting over there across from us. He had grape jelly all over his face and his hands were dripping grease. There was a certain ire over taking him, and he got up and went back to this storage area behind the tables. He came back with an armload of silverware wrapped in napkins, throwing them all down on the table in a great crash. We all pulled the silverware out and started using the napkins. It was just then that the Eskimo came back. His arms were filled with forks and knives which he promptly set on the table with all the other forks and knives we’d just de-napkined. Chet’s brother held up a couple forks and said, “No! Not these damn you! We need napkins.”

The Eskimo looked at them steadily and said, “Yes. I bring. See?” And he held up a fork next to the ones that Chet’s brother was holding up.

“No. We don’t need any more damn forks. We needed napkins. See?” Chet’s brother held up a used and crumpled napkin.

“Ahh! Yee-Iihh!!Yes! YEEEE! Iye! I bring more!” The Eskimo yelled and jumped up again to go back to wherever it was all the napkins were stored in this place.

Chet’s brother just sat there shaking his head, waving the napkin like a white flag of surrender.

Leroy started telling me a story about this guy named Hoy that he used to work for in St. Louis. “The guy owned a video store and made me do all the shit work. I drove his shitty beat-up truck all over the place doing errands for him. He was a nut. This waiter reminds me of him. I had to like pick up the guy’s kids from soccer practice and shit like that. He spilt up with his wife, or she kicked him out or something, and he asked me if I could help him move. So I’m like, okay. I can do that. So I go on over to his place, which was this crap-filled trailer actually, and start helping him load all this stuff into the truck. And there are all these boxes filled with porn. All kinds of porn too. Magazines and videos and DVDs. Boxes and boxes of this stuff. And we’re all lugging them out to the truck, and these magazines keep falling out into the dust, and it’s really hot out, and we’re sweating a lot, and the wind’s blowing them all over the place. I keep running after them while Hoy’s yelling at me to hurry and pick them up before the wind blows them all away. The pages are all flapping around and dust is blowing everywhere, and it’s getting in my eyes and I can’t see what the hell is going on at all. It was so weird. All this porn blowing all over the place. That Hoy was such an odd guy. He had a really thick Chinese accent and called me a son of a bitch if I showed up to work late. He would say, ‘You Son Bitch! We open same time every day! We close same time every night! You Sonbitch!’ He said it like it was one word. It was great. Hoy. I loved that guy.”

At some point during the meal I got confused and started calling the Eskimo waiter Hoy. He was always darting around all over the place, speeding between tables and leaping over small children, and he was always caring a precariously balanced load of things in his arms or on trays. Leroy and I started laughing uncontrollably. We rolled on the benches and laughed. Chet’s brother asked us if we’d eaten any more pot cookies, which we hadn’t, but we couldn’t answer him and just kept laughing.

I had to shit. I had to find the bathroom. I knew I could rely on a sign to tell me where it was. I got up and walked around a little and saw a sign hanging way up high in the sky that, to my eyes, read, ‘MEN’S.’ It seemed like the sign was miles up above, and I kept straining my neck to look up at the thing, making sure it still said what I thought it said. It seemed to, so I kept walking. It seemed like the sign was floating up higher into the dizzying welkin of plastic sheeting above. It was like watching a balloon disappear, getting smaller and smaller as it drifted on away to unknown lands. But it still read, ‘Men’s’ with and arrow pointing and leading me on. Next thing I knew I was stopped by a glass door. In big red letters on the door it read, ‘EXIT.’ It was absurd. Backing up to take a look around I couldn’t see anything resembling a bathroom, just this exit door. And I’d followed that sign. Where was that damn thing? I looked up and saw the sign again, now not so high above me, and it read, very clearly, ‘EXIT.’ Some asshole must have changed the sign. I stared and stared but the sign stayed the way it was. I felt like the victim of some idiotic practical joke. My heart sank like a waterlogged piano, the ebony and ivory of the basswood keys all misaligned and bent out of shape, the cast iron frame all rusted where the hardwood has cracked and busted open, everything soggy and warped in strange ways, the lichenous felt hammers hitting the sodden steel strings one last time as it fell, dilapidated and ruined with mold, into what was left of my guts.

But I looked around and nobody was paying me any attention or laughing into their hands or anything. My own senses had failed me. I must have looked at that sign a dozen times, and every time I swear it read, ‘MEN’S.’ Something was wrong with me. But I had no time to contemplate such things. My sphincter could only contract for so long under these conditions. It was time to get moving. Running now, at a medium pace, I booked all over, dodging buffet patrons with their Dionysian plates of chow, and finally ended up asking a diminutive bald man wearing a child-sized tuxedo with a pink bow tie where the hell the shitter in this place was. He pointed me in the direction of a sign that read, ‘Restrooms’ and I ran and made it in just in time.