The cocktail waitress with the enormous fake tits brought the overpriced drinks to our table. The total without tip came to $29, which didn’t surprise me. We were paying for the view. No, not of her tits, but the panorama laid out in front of us way up high on the 64th floor of THE Hotel. The definite article in caps is their doing, most likely to show they don’t need some pirate or European-city theme. They were the real deal.
We looked northward up the Strip and toward downtown. The outer edges of what we could see were low-lying homes and businesses, indiscernible from anywhere else in the USA. The gaudy glory straight in front of us, however, could be nowhere other than Las Vegas.
“I’m glad we came,” I said to Paula. “Thanks for suggesting this place. Sorry I got all weirded out about being underdressed.”
“You’re funny,” she said. “You’re such a rulebreaker but get squeamish and conformist about the oddest things.”
Indeed, it was strange for me to be hesitant about showing up in a swanky joint wearing shorts. Even after I relented and agreed to come, I was still nervous enough to hide my bare legs under the table when the waitress came by with our drinks.
I like my transgressions to be on my own terms, carefully crafted and if acted out, rehearsed beforehand in front of the mirror. Most of the time though, I prefer to sit safely behind my keyboard, fighting the power by updating my Facebook status with nonsense like:
“David Jennings suggests using Protein Plus Body Wash because it energizes and moisturizes the skin like thousands of nanorapists penetrating your every pore.”
I’m such a rebel.
The view from the cocktail lounge was impressive and in some small way, telling. Directly in front of us was the Luxor. Half the “x” in its name on the obelisk in front of the pyramid was burned out. For a town that prides itself so much on image, leaving this blemish unattended hints that there might be problem with cash flow.
News reports in past years had begun to say what was once considered unthinkable, that Las Vegas was losing money. Around the same time the Luxor opened its doors in the 90s, some people got it into their heads that Sin City needed a makeover as a family-friendly destination. As ideas go, this one ranks up there with New Coke and has been just as resolutely abandoned.
These days, hot young blackjack dealers with plunging necklines work the tables nearest the doors of downtown casinos along Fremont Street. Vaguely criminal-looking young men on the strip hand out fliers for gentlemen’s clubs and escort services. With “Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” as the quasi-official motto, whoring is practically mandatory. The town had returned to its roots and renewed prosperity would surely follow.
Perhaps the Luxor’s lighting glitch was evidence that the town had a ways to go before regaining its former glory. Then again, maybe it burned out five minutes ago and I didn’t know what I was talking about. I sipped my martini, used my forearm to cover my knees, and silently congratulated myself for my powers of observation.
We paid our bill, took the elevator down to street level, and walked to the bus stop on the other side of the Strip opposite Mandalay Bay. The sun was down but it was still above eighty degrees. It was a little cooler than it had been and any drop in temperature was welcome.
We were tired and our feet hurt from wandering around all afternoon. More than just tired, we were fed up. It’s hard to say which was worse, the constant human traffic jams from clumsy drunks’ difficulty navigating escalators and revolving doors, or the perfumed air wafting through every casino.
Actually for Paula, who has allergies and a decent sense of smell, it was no contest. The perfume was far worse. I guess they needed to mask the stench of serious gamblers who have been up for days, eschewing basic hygiene and restroom breaks for festering armpits and a pair of depends.
I never got the gambling thing. I prefer a vice where there is a guaranteed payoff, like drinking.
The bus arrived and we got in. Soon after we took our seats, Paula leaned her head against the window and fell asleep.
It was a strange sort of public transit, both space age and Orwellian. The driver was separated from the passenger compartment by a one-way glass panel that gave you the feeling the vehicle might be operating by remote control. I counted no fewer than six plastic half domes housing security cameras along the ceiling of the bus. In the Vegas of the 21st century, they would brook no “Fear and Loathing” shenanigans.
So be it. As I said before, I’m no gambler. If I’m going to misbehave, I want some reasonable assurance I can get away with it and on this bus, the odds were way too long.
I therefore decided to play it safe and content myself with committing thought crimes of hijinks that would never be. I imagined what fun it would be to toss metallic sodium into the canals at the Venetian to make the water go kablooey. Or better yet, leap up on the stage at the Flamingo and flash my junk at Marie Osmond as some sort of bizarre payback for her making me think she was cute on the “Donnie and Marie Show” when I was 14 years old.
Believe it or not, it was completely by accident when I ended up exposing myself to a group of British tourists who were getting on the bus.
It was an innocent wardrobe malfunction. My shorts had ridden up considerably on that bus seat and when I went to cross my legs, my scrotum flopped out into plain view. I didn’t notice this until I looked down.
After frantically tucking my nads back in, I looked around at the Brits, hoping none of them had gotten an eyeful of my indiscretion. There were no horrified stares in my direction, which was nice but didn’t prove anything. For the next mile or so until they got off the bus, I listened intently to their conversation trying to see if there was any reference, however veiled, to my naughty bits. The results of that were inconclusive. I guess I’ll never know.
Someone would know however. This isn’t like the Muni buses back home where passengers can (and do) jack off to their heart’s content without any fear from the law. Somehow I knew that the security cameras on this vehicle were in perfect working order and someone would be watching.
While Paula peacefully slept and the bus crossed the no-man’s land of dark shuttered storefronts between the Strip and downtown, I let my paranoia wash over me. I thought about digitized images of my face and scrotum being filed into a potential-predator watchlist. Better safe than sorry. I should just be grateful no kids were on the bus. If some little girl got on and then pointed between my legs and screamed, that would be the end of my life as I know it. The doors on the bus would lock. We would be enveloped in a cloud of sleeping gas and I would wake up in a windowless jail cell. Everyone else would awaken safely in their hotel rooms with free tickets to see Cher to compensate them for any inconvenience.
The bus pulled up at our stop and Paula and I got off. She was rubbing her eyes, still only half awake. At some point, I would tell her about my little wardrobe malfunction and we would have a good laugh over it, but now was not the time. I just wasn’t in the mood.
It was a few minutes before midnight on the eve of Memorial Day. Those who had fought and died for their country were being honored, Vegas style. High up on the enclosure covering Fremont Street, the names of the fallen scrolled by while the grim tally of the total number climbed into the tens of thousands with no end in sight. Some people on the street stared up silently, paying respect to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Most people continued to stumble around, drunk as ever.
I thought about what would happen, either by human error or act of terrorism, if they got plugged into the wrong database. Instead of war dead, the names on a sex-offender registry were fed into the works. I’d look up and wince at the sight of “Dave ‘Nutsack’ Jennings” up there among them for all the world to see. I convinced myself that such a thing could never happen. The honor of a sacred American holiday would remain intact, and so would mine.