Thursday, January 22, 2009

CHAPTER 22

When I woke up it was dark and the bed was all wet. Somebody had spilled a drink on it. That somebody was me. Luckily the spilled drink had put my cigarette out. It lay there next to me barely smoked, soaked through, and bent in half. Putting down my hand I felt little grains of tobacco in the pool of whiskey on the sheets. I picked up the now empty glass and turned on a light. Things were normal. Leroy was gone. I was alone in this room. One bed was made and the other, mine, was a mess of whiskey and wet cigarette ash with the covers and sheets all tangled up. The bare mattress was showing on a corner. I pulled open the thick rubber curtains and it was night outside. Lights were either spitting out neon or slobbering up a nacreous film that seemed to hang all over the place. It was a nice view up there, 20 floors above Las Vegas, all the hotels ruining the horizon with their monolithic towers and all of that cement and metal, and all that glass in all of those lighted windows in the distance, and all that traffic jammed up on Las Vegas Boulevard spurting towards heat and damnation and eventually a rather exorbitant tax even on their own deaths. It made me dizzy to look out of the window like that, so I stopped. The air temperature was very nice in the room. I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I needed to put some new clothes on. Unfortunately I’d under packed and was only left with a bright yellow button-up shirt that had a rather conspicuous coffee stain on the sleeve. After trying to straighten it out by whipping it in the air a few times very hard, I put it on. To try to class things up a little I wore a black and gold striped tie and my deep brown plaid suit jacket. My hair was standing straight up and my light brown pants were soiled with stains of all hues and shapes and sizes. Nothing could be done… shoes, socks, belt, brush your teeth, tie your shoes, again, look in the mirror, try to arrange your face in a way that makes sense, put the room key in your pocket…The bottle of whiskey was on the table and still was about a quarter full. I drained most of the rest of it while I stared out the window again, pouring myself glass after glass, neat, and starting to feel the blood flow through me again. The view really wasn’t that bad. Something charming about it all. Good old Vegas lying awake all night out there shimmering like a world of diamonds. Good old Vegas. I kept saying that over and over and then kind of singing it at the window. It wasn’t a bad way to pass time. I finished off my last drink and threw the glass at a wall. It didn’t break.

Before I went out the door to find my friends I glanced in the mirror again. Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see an uncle, or maybe a distant relative that looks familiar but whom I hardly know, maybe have only seen a few times when I was kid and don’t remember much, or sometimes it’s even an aunt who stares back at me. Sometimes the mirror shows me a flashbulb glimpse of old pictures I’ve seen of my grandfather when he was my age, or, in very horrible flashes, my father. His eyes or his forehead, the particular lift of an eyebrow or twist of the mouth, or even just a slightly pockmarked place on my cheek. Sometimes it only lasts a moment, but it’s a damn scary moment, and I immediately readjust my expression by tweaking my zygomatic muscles, or I just twist my mouth or lift my eyebrows in some other very different way to make it all disappear. When I looked in the mirror this time it just showed a tawdry wreck of a man with scraggly stubble sprouting here and there on his face, struggling to schlep towards the door again. At least my tie was clean.


The worst bartender in the world works at the MGM’s Studio Café. Maybe it was his first night. Maybe he was just filling in for the regular guy. Maybe I’m being too hard on the poor sap. I’m sure I’m not the best bar patron in the world. I don’t even remember his name. I think we tipped him. More on him later. First…

Following my hunches I went to a few bars trying to find the two screwballs. After having no luck, I sat down at an extremely long bar of computerized card games. It was hard to get the long, slender, silver-haired bartender’s attention. His cuff links looked like hood ornaments that needed a shine. The yellow crooked teeth behind his creepy grin were enough to send you running away, and his mustache was long and black, curving eerily around his mouth ends and dying in thin strands at his chin. I liked him immediately. Hard guy to get a drink from though. I put a damn fortune into that video poker machine. Finally, after losing much of my money, I started agitatedly swaying back and forth on my stool, almost capsizing a few times, and banging my hands around some. The silver-haired man behind the bar didn’t like that much. He came over to quell me, frowning in disapproval, saying rather arrogantly, “What’ll it be sonny?” I didn’t like him calling me sonny like that, but I decided to let it slide. What was I going to do? Challenge him to a duel? He said again, “Come on kid. You want a drink or you going to keep swinging all over the place and pounding the bar?” He was getting a little ornery now. “Want me to decide?”

“No,” I said, gathering myself and using many expressive hand gestures. “I will try that, what is that? That, um, I think it’s Old Potrero back there? In the fancy bottle.”

“The Rye?” He looked downright pleased. He went back and picked up the bottle, holding it delicately as if it were some kind of magic lamp he hadn’t touched in years. “This is the stuff you want?” He stood there shaking his head and holding the bottle.

“That’s the stuff. Pour it over ice for me, will you?”

“Make that two,” said a gravelly voice behind me. Leroy sat down on the stool to my right. He slipped a twenty into the video poker. “Where’d you go?”

The bar tender poured the whiskey over ice in crystal glasses.

“I just passed out on the bed. I didn’t go anywhere.”

“Oh, that’s right. You were sleeping when I left. Couldn’t wake you up. Thought you might of offed yourself or something.”

“Thanks for caring. Yeah. I was just sleeping off this morning I guess.”

The drinks arrived. We knocked our glasses together and drank.

“That’s damn good whiskey.”

The bar tender brought us a receipt for 26 bucks. “It better be good. Look what it cost us.”

“Cost you, my friend.” Leroy drank off some more. “This one is on you. Damn good stuff. Thanks.”

“No problem. Where’ve you been? Running up tabs, charging things to our room?”

I put down thirty bucks and the rangy bartender grabbed it up, whistling his thanks.

Leroy got three of a kind and the machine blipped a few times for him. “Just winning! Yes. And, you know, running around watching people lose money on Roulette. I still think my system will work. I’ve been watching and…”

“Stop it. Don’t talk to me about Roulette anymore. I don’t want to hear about it.”

Just then I felt a strong grip on my left arm. It held on for a good while. I turned and saw a very attractive older woman connected to the hand. Her sandy blond hair was cut in a lampshade style around her head. She had a nice neck. The black dress she had on looked very expensive. Her eyes were spinning and she had a look of awe and wonder on her face and seemed to be either going into or coming out of a trance. She kept a firm hold on my arm and whispered in my ear, “I just had to tell somebody. Look. Over here.” I looked at her poker screen. She had a royal flush sitting there and the thing was going wild counting out all the electric money.

“That’s a…a…royal flush! Holy shit!” I pointed at the screen and looked at her. Leroy stuck his head over there too. The woman was just smiling and holding my arm. I started to wonder if she were single. The bar tender came over, but he wasn’t very excited about anything. He said something about her husband having forgotten his cigarettes at the bar. I started to wonder if he was lying about the husband because of me. I don’t think the guy liked me much. I couldn’t think of anything to say so I said, “Congratulations. That’s really incredible. A royal flush.” She stopped holding my arm. That was disappointing. I think she ended up winning a grand on that one hand.

She was smiling there on her stool and she said, “I only played twenty bucks. I was just going to play until my twenty was gone and go up to my room.”

“I guess your twenty’s gone.” I said. This conversation wasn’t going anywhere. I turned back to my screen, on which I proceeded to lose five hands in a row. I drank some more whiskey. It was damn good stuff.

The lady printed out a receipt for her winnings and I told her congratulations again when she left, and she was nice and all, but I think she was a little nervous that we were going to follow her and take her ticket or something. The bar tender scowled at me and asked her if she wanted an escort.

“No. That’ll be fine. And you can keep my husband’s cigarettes. He won’t be needing them tonight.” She turned to us and said, “Bye boys. Have fun tonight.”

She was leaving a winner. That took some real self-control. She was probably some soccer mom from Laguna Beach out for the weekend, maybe having an affair with some insurance salesman she’d met online, having a wild time, smoking his cigarettes and spending his money, and now a thousand bucks to top it off. Not bad. She walked away swinging her hips. They were nice hips. I liked looking at her walk away like that, all dressed up and happy in her nice black dress. There was just something about her.

Leroy and I drank our drinks and lost our money in the video machines. We decided to go get some food. The MGM Studio Café was the first place we came to and we went in and sat down at the bar. It was made to look like Hollywood or somebody’s idea of a Hollywood studio, or some such thing. “We can order food here, right?” I asked the waitress, who looked like she should be serving food samples at a grocery store. She called me honey and told me we could and that she’d be back in a jiffy. I thought about peanut butter for a while and Leroy tried to get the big burly bar tender’s attention. The guy was wearing a tuxedo that was a few sizes too small for him. He had curly black hair and a shiny eggshell-white smile. Everything about him seemed awkward and hurky-jerky, like he’d knock something over with each movement of his large body, which stumbled by us a few times, imminently approaching us, but somehow always seeming to get distracted by something and walking away before we had a chance to yell out our drink orders. Leroy and I were the only ones sitting at the bar. Leroy began complaining. I was only thinking about food at this point. My appetite was back and I wanted to eat everything. I began wishing I were back in the buffet. The bar tender tripped by a few more times and Leroy finally got him to stop when he came stumbling by us, almost dropping a paring knife on my hand.

“Oh, jeez. Sorry about that, guy.” He clumsily picked up the knife. I didn’t like the way he called me guy.

I said, “How about a few drinks, gal.”

“Oh, sure. Sure.” He just stood there smiling his dumb smile and rubbing his hands with a dishtowel. “Um. Just a second here. There’s a menu somewhere here,” he went on idiotically. Leroy was just about to tell the guy that we didn’t need any damn menu for our drink orders when the guy whipped out two lengthy laminated sheets and set them in front of us. We stared at them for a while and the guy went off again to do something in his oafish way, knocking over some glasses at the other end of the bar in the process.

“This guy’s a nut,” I whispered conspiratorially to Leroy. “We better play this one close to the vest.”

“What does that mean!”

“I don’t know. We better be quick with our order. Don’t confuse the dumb bastard.” I said hurriedly as I saw the waitress serving people big hot plates of steaming food on the other side of the restaurant. “Man, I am really fucking hungry. I wish that old lady would prance her way over here again.” I saw the bar tender coming back and I said to him, “Where are the food menus? Can we get food menus here?” He seemed startled by me, like he hadn’t noticed me sitting there.

“Well, you are going to have to ask the waitress. I don’t do the food here, see. I just can get drinks.” He said in a rich and husky baritone.

Leroy jumped at the chance. “Yes. We will have drinks,” then as an aside to me, “order now, quick, come on. This is our chance.” I glanced at the menu and saw that they had Chimay. That sounded good. Something a bit high class to keep with the theme I’d started with the whiskey.

“I’ll have a Chimay please.” I said pointing to it on the menu for some reason. The bar tender leaned over to get a better look at what I was pointing at. He had a very confused look on his face. Leroy was trying to order a beer, any kind of beer I guess, but the guy just kept looking at the menu like he’d never seen it before in his life. Soon his finger joined mine on the menu.

“That is…um…ok. Did you say shimmy?” He barreled backwards into the back of the bar, and quickly turned around and pretended like he was getting something from off the shelf that was there.

Leroy screamed, “No you…” and stopping himself continued, “Chimay. It’s right there in the refrigerator, right next to you, in that blue bottle. See it? It’s right there.” We were both trying to help him out at this point as he opened up the glass door of the mini-fridge and looked through all of the bottles. He touched almost all of them in his search. Finally he brought out a bottle of Heineken and Leroy said, “Ok. I’ll take that.” The guy set it down and seemed very happy about that.

“Oh. I’ll get you a glass for that.” He said as he wandered off again. We both screamed at him to come back. Leroy told him he didn’t need a glass. For some reason this took a long time to sink in. I was almost ready to give up on my fancy beer. The dull-witted ogre just stared at us. I thought he was going to start drooling.

I tried to trigger his memory. “Chimay. That blue bottle right on top there in the fridge. Can I have it?”

“Oh. Yes. Sure.” He started the whole fridge exploration again. This time he was more successful and pulled out the bottle. He set it down on the table and looked at it strangely. It was one of those big bottles of Chimay that are like Champagne bottles and you have to uncork them and unscrew the little wire thing on top to get them open. I could tell this was going to be a challenge for our new friend. He picked up the bottle before I could tell him not to and he started trying to undo the wire trap on top of the cork.

Leroy was really enjoying the display. He’d opened his beer all by himself.

The guy started wrestling with the bottle and holding it under his arm, trying to pry the thing off with sheer force. It wasn’t working too well. His hips were knocking into all kinds of stuff and Leroy picked up his beer to keep it from getting spilled by this wild Buffalo of a bar tender. I was cringing just watching the guy shake the bottle up like that. Somehow he pried the thing off and started pulling at the cork with a dishtowel wrapped around his hand. I couldn’t watch anymore. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. When I heard a pop I opened them again. The guy quickly slammed the overflowing bottle down on the bar in front of me. It started gushing all over the place.

“I’m sorry. Oh. Let me clean that up. Oh.” He started wiping up the mess with the dishtowel. My beer was about a quarter gone at this point.

I started saying, “That’s ok. That’s fine. It’s fine,” just to get him to go away, which he did. I said to Leroy, “Shit. I need a glass. Should I ask for a glass? It could be another catastrophe.”

“Yes. Damn it. You have to have a glass for that beer.” He started screaming down the bar, “Hey! Bar tender! We need a glass down here for the beer!”

He was right. I couldn’t drink Chimay from the bottle. A glass was absolutely necessary.

The guy came back in a few minutes, bungling up something else in the process I’m sure, looking like he’d just done about ten miles on a stationary bike. “You don’t have to yell. I was coming back. Now, what did you need?”
“A glass. We need a glass for his beer. And where’s the waitress? We’re hungry here. We haven’t eaten anything in almost an hour.”

The guy was lost again. The confusion was rising in his visage like water filling up his head.

I decided to keep it simple. “A tall glass for my beer.”

He smiled and went and got a highball glass from somewhere and put it down beside my beer and told us he hadn’t seen the waitress in some time but that he was sure she’d be back soon and we sat there and drank our beers and waited for her.

A couple came and sat down at the end of the bar. They seemed very young and kind of jaded, a bad combination. The girl was giving the guy a lot of flak about something. His face was maculated and his hair was slick and combed back. They both had on nice dress clothes. They might have been going to their high school prom, but they weren’t. They were here in the bar sitting by us and making all kinds of noise. I drank my Chimay, which wasn’t cold enough but was still good, and tried to ignore them. The guy just sat there and took the abuse. I didn’t like the girl, her rust-colored hair sprouting wildly from her pale over-sized melon, wearing black lipstick to match her long black dress, and looking like she’d bite the fingers off of anyone who dared come near her. She was a loud one. People at the top of the Stratosphere were probably covering their ears and trying to shush her. They weren’t having any luck.

The waitress finally showed up with menus. We were quick about ordering, scanning the menus pell-mell and telling her what we wanted before she had a chance to get away from us. I got a BLT, thinking that’d be hard to fuck up, and Leroy got some kind of meat and potatoes dish or something. We tried to order two shots of Fernet from the waitress, which was a big mistake, because she had no idea what the hell we were talking about. So the bar tender became involved again. Leroy and I cringed.

“Now what exactly is that, you say? Fur next?”

Leroy took control, grabbing the menu, pointing to what we wanted, and then pointing directly at the bottle right across from us, standing up on his seat to do so, exclaiming, “There! There! That one!” as the guy struggled from bottle to bottle. When he finally grabbed the right one Leroy let out a pealing roar and the guy actually looked rather proud of himself. The couple at the end of the table was looking very upset by this whole display. The girl looked truculent and ready to pounce. After smiling reassuringly at them, getting Leroy to stop hollering and sit back down in his seat, and explaining to the waitress about what exactly Fernet was, letting her smell the purple and pungent licorice liquid in my shot glass, we toasted to something or other and drank the Fernet down. There was a nice slow burn spreading in my gut, and then a stinging sensation, not at all unpleasant, in my mouth, as the wild herbs spread over my taste buds. The girl went back to berating her date, and I went back to my beer and my sandwich. The bacon was warm and the tomato was cold, the rye bread was crisp and the lettuce was, well, lettuce. I wolfed it down very fast and, after finishing off most of my large Chimay bottle, was starting to feel rather excellent again, if not a little drunk too. Leroy punched me in the side and when I looked over, not happy at having been disturbed in my newly found blissful state, saw two little white pills in his open hand. I took one immediately and tried to surreptitiously swallow it down. There are cameras everywhere in Vegas up in those glass balls on the ceiling, and one cannot be too careful when taking what may or may not be illegal drugs of some sort at a lunch counter. Leroy took one too and we toasted our beers to something.

“What kind of pill was that?” I finally asked him as we sat there listening to that impious girl at the end of the bar yell at her date about infidelities or miscegenation of some sort done by someone to something at sometime when he or she or it may not have been supposed to be doing whatever it was that she was, in her shrill way, accusing them of doing, and the guy just sat there with a look of dumb surrender on his face taking it all in and not saying much besides the occasional yeah or sure.

“That was one extended release high-octane super-powered pill of Adderall that you just sucked down my friend. Guaranteed to make you shimmy and shake all night long.”

“Great. Can I have another one?”

“Ok. But that’s it. Remember, to-morrow we must drive long distances.”

He handed me another pill while he simultaneously picked up some food with the fork in his other hand. It was some kind of decoy move I guess. It seemed unnecessary. Especially since I brazenly flipped the pill into the air and caught it on my tongue before swallowing it. It was a very nonchalant move. For some cockamamie reason I’d decided to throw caution to the wind. Leroy made a face like I’d just cut the head off of his favorite chicken.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” He grabbed my head and said into my ear, “You dimwit. You’ll have the narcs on us in minutes. Please, try to control yourself and keep all of this drug taking on the down low.”

I pulled away. “The down low? What the hell is that?” He just shook his head and went back to his food. I saw him take another pill with his next bite. It was very obvious. “This is Vegas. The city of sin. Right now some guy right up the street is bending over his roommate and fucking him up the ass.”

Leroy turned to me chewing still, “His roommate?”

“Yes! I’m not worried about our little dalliances here. There are much bigger fish to fry in this place. And we’re not even in the frying pan. There isn’t even a fire. Don’t worry. I am a Dadaist. I’m contradictory by nature.” I then let out a deep and booming eructation.

We both started laughing wildly, neither of us knowing what the hell I was talking about. I finished my Chimay and Leroy finished his meal and the girl at the end of the bar finally finished her scolding jeremiad and her date finally lifted his head and had a sip of his drink. Things were getting better now. I hoped this trend would continue.

Chet found us at the Studio Café. We saw him walking by and yelled out his name a bunch of times and sat there waving as if we were lost at sea and he were a member of a search party looking for us. Suffice it to say, we got his attention. He came over and sat down by us and started telling us about playing baccarat and shooting craps with his brother and Snaggle. It turns out Snaggle was quite a craps player. We started discussing plans for the evening.

“We could go to Coyote Ugly and New York New York. A lot of scantily clad girls dancing around to rock music,” Chet suggested.

I almost vomited blood at the idea but Leroy was all for it. “Shit, let’s do it. They’ll be all kinds of drunk girls there dancing and wanting to be fucked.”

I tried not to be a part of the rest of the conversation and suggested that we go do some gambling also. This seemed all well and good, but Chet had to rush off and say so-long to his brother and Snaggle, so he went off and left us there at the Studio Café. We tried to charge the bill for our meal to the room, but Leroy fucked up and said his last name instead of using Chet’s last name, which was the one that was connected with our room. So we paid cash.

The cocaine was gone. The Whiskey bottle was almost empty. We had no place to go for a while. I sat down and waited at a video slot machine while Leroy took a shit, thinking about all the cocaine Leroy had foolishly squandered on the trip here, and about when the fucking Adderall was going to kick in, and tried to relax and just watch people going by, lighting a cigarette and watching the smoke drift up into the casino’s ozone of conditioned air. I was right by a major walkway that was getting a lot of foot traffic. My mind drifted as I slumped there on the digital-eyed armless bandit, resting an elbow on its push-button torso, ashing my cigarette in a metal cup on its wide and sturdy shoulders. A certain sort of melancholy overcame me as I sat there and tried not to look people in the eyes. I hugged myself and started swaying, my cigarette sticking out like a finger pointing off somewhere from my side. I started wishing I were a street sign or a lamp post, maybe a fire hydrant or a tree on somebody’s lawn, a marble in a jar of a million marbles, a piece of lint in the vent of a dryer, or the clippings of an old man’s toenails that he cuts while lying on his back on the floor of his kitchen. Anything but this mortal coil of ugly mismatched parts and woe begotten ways of try and never try again, this diseased and rotting husk of flesh kept alive by the murmuring beats of a brittle heart, these long scars of moth-balled memories, this lack of ambition and purpose and the will to succeed in any ordinary kind of way, this undisciplined anxious bundle of nerves and twitches and wrong turns down one-way streets that all lead to this fusty insulated place where nothing matters, a replica of an intangible world that no longer needs me to exist. I sang to myself, “If only I were a pair of invisible eyes hovering over the ether of shouting skies.”

Things were starting to pick up in the gaming area around me. People were starting to fill in at the machines and I kept thinking somebody was going to come up and kick me out of my seat if I didn’t start gambling soon. So a fished around in my pockets for some money, found a dollar, and put it in a slot in the side of the machine. It gave me four credits. They looked very meager up there on the screen, just a red flashing number four for all my trouble. I punched the maximum bet key on the pad. The electric symbols whirled by, spinning cantaloupes and pineapples, turkeys flapping by with hummingbird wings, and lightning bolts and gold crowns going by in a blur, each square stopping its spin a moment before the next, setting up anticipation, a moment’s hush, the instant’s wonder of mercurial stakes, of chance set up and settling in, and the chancelessness of an unknowable future, sending my hope springing pretty fucking close to eternal. But, alas, there was no thing with feathers for me. After four quick dings of a heartless computerized bell, I was left with only a big red zero where my four credits had been a moment before.

Leroy came by and slapped me on the back of the head, kept walking for a ways, and then turned around with a big shit-eating grin on his face, for what reason I do not know, and I sat there, slowly putting my cigarette out in the metal cup on the slot machine, watching him look back at me. He started waving at me to get up and follow him. I did. I came up behind him fast, as if I were going to pass a baton to him in some kind of relay race or something, but then started walking next to him and we didn’t talk for a while.

We went up to the room, Leroy executing quite an impressive jump kick, with much aplomb, in the elevator, though the two other folks in the elevator with us were not too impressed and, in fact, did exit rather shortly after this display of agility and balance, as Leroy stood there on one leg, the other still stuck high in the air, like some benighted funambulist, grinning wider than a circus tent. I pushed him over when the bell dinged our floor and dashed out towards our room without him. He made it out just before the elevator doors closed.

All the lamps on the all walls were all burning their small electric pyres, all pseudo-garish charm and heatless warmth, and as I ran I saw them streaking by, prickling the wall, tracers scumbling the paint that seemed to be wet and dripping and motionless at the same time. I kept repeating our room number to myself as I ran. I started stopping at each door, checking the numbers, getting ready to lift my key from my pocket, and now really feeling the urgency of frenetic, if not downright splenetic, peristalsis kicking in. I needed a toilet and lickety-split too. Leroy flashed by me. A delusion? That spindly clown of a thing with papier-mâché arms waving and flapping around like a scarecrow struck by lightning, legs bounding up and down with the knobby knees like hooks coming way up high like a mechanized marching robot gone haywire, was that really something human? I didn’t have time to guess at such things. I booked down the hall, crashing into Leroy and knocking him even more off balance than he already was as I zipped by, now seeing the numbers following an order, and knowing, above all else, that our room number was coming up soon, that I would have my card-key ready, that I would insert it into the slot in the door signaling the door to open with a comforting buzz, like the sound of home when you’ve been away too long, or the hushed surd and hum of the tide going out, maybe even the slow and steady yawn of an old television set warming up when you click it on, or just the sound a slightly warped record makes between songs, a life affirming noise that is short-lived, steady, and complete, a noise that doesn’t have to exist outside of anything besides itself. I saw our door. I stopped moving. I put my plastic card into the door slot and went inside, hearing nothing. The bathroom was mine. I locked the door, pulled down my pants, sat down on the cold toilet lid and let it all out. Leroy came in, probably with much gusto and banging and crashing, and he probably pounded on the door and screamed all kinds of vitriol at me. But I didn’t hear him. I wasn’t listening.