“What the fuck are you doing?”
Leroy ’s face is furious and right next to mine. He’s so close I can smell his mustache. It’s not a good scent.
“Um. What? Nothing, I just...”
“You just got insurance on the dealer’s ace. That’s a sucker’s bet. You know that.”
We seem to be at a blackjack table.
“Oh. I did? Fuck. That was a major fuck up. Oh well.”
“Oh well? Fuck. Pay attention to what the hell’s going on or we’re going to have this whole table of dumbskulls beating the living shit out of us.”
“Dumbskulls? You mean numbskulls.”
“Don’t tell me my business, okay? Just play the fucking game without doing anything too extraordinarily stupid, okay?”
I play my hand and lose, busting before the dealer turns over his cards. I try to gather my remaining chips and leave the table. Leroy looks at me like I’m some kind of piscine thing flapping helplessly in the sea below him. I smile while trying to fill all of my jacket pockets with my ostensibly Brobdingnagian collection of chips, stumbling away as Leroy turns back to the table. How the hell did I get here? Where the hell am I? I must find out these things.
Endless acres of casino floor spread out in the distance, cigarette smoke rising from tables like small campfires bellowing up over a beach at night. The smoke doesn’t cloud here. The ventilators pump it right out, leaving just the cold air from the air conditioners to take its place. I am in the belly of an expansive casino. Is this the Rio? The MGM? Are we getting a hotel room? I must’ve been drugged! And why they hell was I playing blackjack? You can’t win at that game. It’s impossible. What kind of sick individual would give me an illicit substance that made me play an idiotic game like blackjack? And have no memory of it. Leroy must be trying to somehow steal all of my money. Maybe he slipped me a Mickey at the bar and they took all my money and dragged me to this table, holding me up and pretending that I was conscious, like Weekend At Bernie’s or something, and now Leroy was throwing away all of my money at the Black Jack table. He must be stopped! Where the hell was Chet? Why am I so god damn confused?
I sat down at a gaming machine, which was busy spinning and blaring and flashing, and grabbed my head. Bearings…that’s what I needed to get. Always doing the same things. Sometimes. Like when I was at home in my small apartment and I closed the blinds to shut out another night, to keep the streetlights out of my eyes when I slept, positioning my desk chair, soiled with innumerable stains and covered with old T-shirts which also became ratty and stain-filled over time, so as to block out the glare of the streetlight outside my window that still came through the closed blinds, beaming in like a spotlight and blinding me in my bed as I tried wearily, again and again, to sleep. Doing the same things every night, every morning…sleeping through another Mahler symphony as radio advertisements fill my dreams, coffee, bagel, shower, staring out the window at the sun spilling over rooftops, the buses going by humming on electric wires, the rattling trundle of the cable cars rushing down towards Union Square, sitting barefoot drinking coffee and wondering how I’ll ever make it through another day, already dreaming of the day’s first cocktail, the night’s first beer, the music coming from my open window late at night, maybe a baseball game on, maybe a bar that’ll stay open late for me…
People speak of being grounded. Metal objects always shock me when I touch them. The current just goes right through me like I’m some kind of superconductor. I’ve never felt grounded in my life.
Some guy and his elderly mother were sitting across from me in the casino. They were playing the nickel slots. The guy looked way too damn happy. A waitress in a silvery thong walked by and I tried to order a scotch, but somehow failed to get her attention, or speak any type of recognizable language. The guy’s mom kept telling him to, “Stop that gambling! Stop that.” He was smiling a big toothy smile and she was standing over him while he punched buttons and made the wheels of the raucous contraption spin. Then when he’d win she’d grab him on the shoulders with her claws and howl, “You won! Yes! Oh my goodness! We won!” and would go on like that until he punched the button again and lost and she berated him once again for throwing all his money away. It was a fucking nickel slot. What was he winning or losing? Twenty cents? The whole thing was giving me a headache. I got up and decided to do some reconnaissance work.
First I would cash in all these chips in my pocket. They were really weighing me down. I had enough things weighing me down. Time to unload some of this excess baggage. I scoped out the gaming room. This was the MGM Grand hotel. It said so on many signs. After following a sign that told me I was going towards, “The Rain Forest Café,” and finding neither café nor any sign of rain, I located a gold-barred booth where it seemed as if one could make some kind of cash transaction. An old lady sat behind the gold bars and didn’t do much smiling. I liked that. I went up to her and started unloading my pockets, throwing all the chips in to her through the little window. They made quite a pile and kind of blocked things up there at the little booth.
“Sir. What are you doing?” She rose from her chair incredulously. “You can’t do that here. Hey, stop that!” She screamed as a bunch of the loose chips tumbled onto the floor.
“Sorry. Just trying to lighten my load. Could I get large bills please? Hundreds preferably, but I’d understand if you don’t carry that kind of…”
“I don’t carry any kind of anything here. Sir, this is an information booth. I don’t have money. Would you please get all of those chips off of my counter?” She started shoving from her side and more chips went down on the carpet.
“Small bills are okay. Really, I just wanted to…”
My body was grabbed and dragged by some very strong hands across the floor for a while. I remained calm. It is always good to remain calm when being forcibly removed from a place. The hands set me down against a wall, where I seated myself firmly on the floor. A quite corpulent security guard waddled away and headed towards my chips.
I screamed, “Stop that man. He’s stealing all of my winnings!”
The Security guard turned around menacingly and told me to zip it. I took his advice.
My chips were gathered up by a few of these pot-bellied boys in midnight blue security duds and put into what looked like a potato sack. They brought them over and dropped the bag on the ground next to me, looking a little out of breath.
“Thanks boys. Very good of you. Really. Could I keep the sack? I’ve got a three-legged race this afternoon. I might need it.”
They were not amused. The biggest one piped up, “You know, that’s a lot of trouble to go through for quarter chips. Whadda ya got? Twenty three bucks in there.” They laughed at that. It was pretty damn funny.
For some reason they left me there with my bag. I think they had some other emergency, some other crook to apprehend. I got up, slung the bag over my shoulder like a hobo getting ready to hop a train, and began walking away.
Leroy saw me go by and started laughing. “What the fuck are you doing man? What’s in the bag?”
I just glared at him and kept walking. The son-of-a-bitch had drugged me and tried to take my money. He ran after me.
“Hey,” he said still laughing at me, “where the hell are you going? You just left me there at the table, and I was up big. I got fucked after you left. You were bringing me good luck.”
“I bet. How much of my money did you lose?”
“What? Are you okay? You look all fucked up. I mean, really fucked up. Not just the fucked up way you normally look. What’s that shit all over your tie?”
I looked down and saw that my tie was splattered with some kind of reddish-brown substance. “It must be soy sauce or something. Get away from me.”
Leroy kept walking next to me. I was moving at a pretty fast pace at this point.
“Come on man. What the hell? You were doing fine until you doubled down on two threes. And then you bought that insurance. What was that?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?” I switched the potato sack to my other shoulder and turned a corner quickly, trying to lose him. It didn’t work.
He hustled and sidled up beside me saying, “Something is very wrong with you. What happened?”
We were approaching the lobby now. Something sparked in my memory. I turned to Leroy. “What happened after we left the Rio? I mean, how did we get here?”
“Um. We drove in an automobile.” Leroy said sarcastically. “A Mercedes. You remember it. A big old silver shining thing with tires and a steering wheel.”
“It sounds familiar.”
It was starting to come back.
“You went off by yourself to shit or something, remember, after we left the bar with that hot cocktail waitress, and we all said farewell to Chet’s brothers and one of them told us that his girlfriend wanted to shove her tits up against us?”
“That’s right. She wanted a hug good-bye. That was a weird way to phrase it.”
“Yep. And so we went down there and hugged her and…”
My memory was sparked, “I ate that fucking truffle.”
“She gave me a fucking truffle. It must have been laced with something or some…”
Leroy ’s eyes got really wide. “Oh shit. You ate that whole thing?”
“Where the hell did it come from? What was in that thing?”
“Man. No wonder you got all crazed there. Your short term’s all burned up too. I guess I should’ve warned you.”
“I went off to the bathroom and while I was sitting there taking a shit I got kind of a sweet tooth and I ate the damn thing. I didn’t know it was….what the fuck! What the hell was in that thing?” I threw my potato sack into the air. It landed in a fountain.
Now Leroy was really laughing. “I’m sorry man…” He went into a fit and ended up on his side on the ground, his mouth opening to laugh but no sound coming, and his legs extended while his head flew back, wrapping his arms around his chest the whole while. It was quite a production.
I went over to the fountain. My head was still kind of a mess, but things were becoming less crazed. The potato sack was soaked and so were my chips. I decided to leave them. It wasn’t worth the roughly twelve dollars or whatever was in there. I picked up the sack and let all the chips fall out. All those black rubber chips floating by in the fountain, being carried away by the current, circling and circling endlessly until some custodian came by and cleaned them out, and, I hoped, kept the generous tip for himself. I threw the wet sack on the floor and walked away. I’d had enough of these things.
The floor was very clean in the lobby. All of the tiles were shining and you could almost see tiny upside-down reflections in them. The light was hurting my eyes. I remembered Chet being at a desk at some point, checking in maybe.
Shit. That means we have a room…here at the MGM Grand. That’s wonderful. I need to lie down. I need to find Chet and get a room key from him. I tried asking somebody walking by if they knew what room I was in or if they knew where Chet was. They didn’t.
Leroy came bolting into the lobby headed right towards me. I tired to stand still, somehow hoping he wouldn’t see me. He came to an abrupt stop right next to me and started talking.
“I’m sorry. Man. You must be really out of your gourd.”
“Something like that. Stop laughing.”
“Sorry. I just…Well, there’s not much we can do about it now. Let’s go check out the pool.”
I kept staring off at something glowing the distance. It turned out to be the glass in the front doors opening and closing. “I don’t have a swim suit or a towel.”
Leroy was unfazed. “I don’t either. They give you a towel with your room key, and we can just buy suits at some store in here. This place is like a fucking shopping mall. They have everything.”
“Where’s my room key?”
“I don’t know, you moron. Check your pocket.”
The room key was a little credit card thing in my pants pocket. After finding it there I felt much better about things. “Alright. Let’s go swimming.”
We started following signs towards the pool area outside. The place was gigantic. Like ten malls all glued together and stacked on top of each other. We passed all kinds of shops and restaurants. One was a San Francisco themed restaurant called, “Nob Hill.” I lived in Nob Hill back in San Francisco and started looking at the menu. The letters didn’t make any sense. It was like trying to decipher a code or read Chinese. Some greeter person came up to me and asked how many were in my party. I just laughed and grunted and told him, “I live here,” while pointing at the name of the place, which was on the top of the over-sized menu on the wall. He made a confused gesture. I tried to explain to him that I actually lived in Nob Hill, in San Francisco, in California, but it didn’t help. I think he thought I meant that I lived in the restaurant. Either way Leroy grabbed me and apologized to the guy for his, “friend being a moron,” and we kept trying to find our way to the pool.
“Come on. We’ve got to find Chet. He’s out there by the pool sunbathing or something.”
“Okay. Stop it. Don’t try to talk any more. You’re making no sense at all. That guy back there was ready to knock you out.”
That seemed like a good idea to me. I was tired of talking anyway. It didn’t do any good. All a bunch of rot.
We came to some escalators that went down for a really long time. It reminded me of these escalators they have in Washington D.C. that go down like that to the subway. The rubber on the moving steps seemed to be moving itself. Leroy didn’t seem to notice. It must have had something to do with the heat. But it was nice and cool in there. It didn’t make sense. All the rubber was melting and the stairs were liquefying, turning into this tar like substance that was sucking people under. I’d seen this before. The La Brea tar pits in LA. The animals would get stuck in the tar and it would pull them under, and there as no escape. We were going to drown in this fucking tar if I didn’t get us out of here. I tried to pull at Leroy and get him off of the melting moving stairway. He wouldn’t budge and just kept telling me to calm down and to, “Get the fuck off of me man. Shit.”
So I decided to make a run for it while I still could. I leapt over the moving handrail, which was also melting, and, barely avoiding getting my hands stuck in the muck, I made it onto the contiguous stairway, which was solid and not moving nor melting. Leroy was looking back at me and shaking his head laughing. People on the escalator were drowning. Why was Leroy staying on that death trap? I ran down to the bottom of the stairs and watched as people somehow emerged, all covered in the this molten tar-like substance, from this waterfall of an escalator. They seemed to be okay with it, like it was just part of the ride, part of the “Vegas Experience” or something, stepping up from this gooey muck and onto the sharp metal teeth of hungry comb plates. Leroy came down looking at me like I was crazy. I’d grown used to the look and didn’t mind it so much now. He was the one covered in tar anyway.
I tried to say something like, “I hope that stuff doesn’t contaminate the pool.”
He screamed, “AHH! Didn’t I tell you not to talk anymore?”
Things were getting heavy. Everything felt like it was weighing down on me. Even the air. Gravity was really working hard on me. Forming words was getting more difficult. He was right. I needed to clam up for a while. At least until this let up. It was kind of like being stuck way deep under the water with some kind of anchor tied to your foot that wouldn’t let you float back up to the surface where everything was light and sunny. I started singing Neil Diamond’s, “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother,” in my head.