I left the Flamingo a few hundred up and headed for the Cosmopolitan looking for a hot table or maybe an easy blowjob. It had been a full day of blackjack for me with a few breaks for food and naps. Having a good time but the smell of alcohol and stale food and weed on the strip was starting to get to me. My watch and an index card were helping me keep my bearings. No matter where I was I knew the time and my current balance even though I’d left my phone in my room. Vegas is no place to carry a phone.
The Vegas strip is a prime launch pad for the new year because there is not a new year there, not really because Vegas has one rule: everything, all the time. My practice has been to arrive sometime between the second and the fourth because the revelers have mainly left and the crowds are thinner for a few days until the Consumer Electronics Show gets started.
I like changing casinos around two a.m. if it’s raining because with moisture hitting my glasses the neon spatters and everything else is dingy and gray like a cyberpunk novel. Things get trippy even if you’re sober. Those weak gin and tonics I get at the tables are just rituals now. The play is the thing and, like music and women, can’t really be properly enjoyed if you’re too far gone no matter what the hippies say. I’ve always preferred reality straight. It’s always proven weirder and more fun that drugs but that’s me and I was raised that a man never gets fucked up in public.
Past the holidays Vegas is getting back to its usual self. The nonstop action may be designed to extract as much money from you as possible in your time there but so what? The purpose of nature is to simply help you die and recycle your protein yet we go hunting and fishing and camping and hiking all the time. Life wants to kill you, motherfucker. Adapt or die, but have your fun.
My first such kick-off like this happened by accident. It was the year I was still married when I woke up New Year’s Day but wasn’t when I went to sleep New Year’s Eve. It so happened I wound up in Vegas on business just after New Year’s, my first time ever in Vegas, knowing I was on the road to divorce and just edging into my late forties.
Vegas is not the love of my life but we definitely clicked for three days. By then the sensory overload was getting to me and I was for some weak, unfathomable reason missing the wife who I’d just spent my last New Year’s with. After the split I’d spent a year traveling figuring out the best recipe for my own particular brand of degeneracy through trial and error. Despite a productive trip to Atlantic City that summer, something was missing, s Vegas made it back on the calendar for the next year and now every year, just a few days, alone, always alone, just me and the blackjack dealers.
A congenial fellow, far more than most on the strip, in a porkpie hat hawking a strip club stepped up and said he could tell I was the “mayor of titty town” and I needed to make haste to his establishment if I knew what was good for me. I explained to him that I was in fact the Governor of said province but there were plenty of remarkable mammaries back home but there was no blackjack there. “Ok well you know where to find me, Governor,” he called after me as I headed up the steep steps to the pedestrian bridge.
“I got weed, coke, whatever you need,” a fast-talker pitched to a group of young men just ahead of the overweight Midwestern couple waddling in front of me high over Las Vegas Boulevard. They were middle-aged and shocked. Shocked! The wife grabbed her husband’s pudgy bicep that was challenging the seams of his polo shirt and said, “Oh my God! Carl! Drugs. I just can’t believe that.”
To his credit, Carl ignored the drugs, and her.
I felt better the moment I stepped into the sanitized whorehouse feel of The Cosmpolitan, but it was short-lived. Another middle-aged couple with presumably their three twenty-something children clustered around the giant chair shaped like a woman’s stiletto near the upper entrance from the skywalk. The wife waved an iPhone at me as I passed and asked me if I would take their picture as if this were Disney which, in a way, it is. What surprises me most about Vegas isn’t the undercurrent of degenerate fun but the packs of families and retirees waddling around. “We brought our kids to Vegas to teach them how to remain upstanding citizens by engaging their lasciviousness vicariously, like we do,” these people seemed to be saying. “Better character through voyeurism.” So now they want a family picture in a giant fuck me heel, and they want me to take it.
I shook my head ‘no’ and kept walking, caught the escalator down.
Hitting the casino floor I made my way to the blackjack pit and settled into first base at a twenty-five dollar table with one of those shitty continuous shuffle machines. The dealer was chatty but not too chatty and I was winning modestly but steadily until four women, one ancient and wobbly drunk, and three in their twenties, approached the table. The old woman had gray skin and quickly grabbed the stool next to mine and made a dumb joke about getting to first base which I couldn’t quite make out anyway.
The dealer carded the girls and two of them had to leave for being underage. The one remaining sat in the middle a couple seats down from the old woman. Both women placed cash on the table and the dealer began counting it out.
“It’s fate,” the old woman said drunkenly. “I’m here to bring you luck.”
“Bad or good?” I asked.
“More like naughty or nice,” she said flirtatiously as she put a cigarette in her mouth.
“Light me?” she asked, her head wobbling, then continued, “Come on baby light my fire.”
“Not a smoker,” I said.
She found a lighter in her purse and lit her own cigarette. The waitress came by and I ordered a gin and tonic. The old woman asked for the same and leaned into me. “How’s the table?”
“Level,” I said. “Sturdy.”
“Those girls all work for me,” she said. “We’re here on business.”
“Adult industry?” I asked with a smirk.
She grabbed my arm and shook it. “Behave, you,” she said. “Marketing.”
I shrugged. “Same thing really.”
She laughed. “I like you. You’re bad. Are your arms really that hard?”
“Not at all,” I answered. “It’s an act.”
She looked me in the and chuckled a bit. “I bet you think you’re funny.”
I shrugged and focused on cards. Honestly, I briefly considered it as a novelty, as something to keep the weirdness going. For the story, in a way, but I’m no post-modernist and this was my fucking dick after all. Self-referential cringe behavior even justified as a by-product of some half-assed attempt at New Journalism because you read too much Hunter Thompson as a lad was no excuse, and an easy blowjob from some boomer was not at all what I had in mind. There would be nothing easy about that, I cautioned myself. You’re here to play, not face fuck someone’s grandma. Have some standards, man.
After a few hands it was clear the cards were no longer falling well. The younger chick kept asking for help with her hands and the old lady was telling her wrong but I was keeping it to myself. I would stroke my chips or focus on my drink while she was correcting herself after it was too late to change back while the girl looked at me for confirmation. I briefly thought about moving over to the other side of the old woman so that I was between them both, but I was here to play and while I don’t always win I am a disciplined player. The old one finally admitted she was “a little tipsy” and began deferring to me to help out. Having lost the modest gains I had made before the women sat down, I decided this was my cue, and pushed my chips toward the dealer to color up.
The dealer consolidated my chips and gave me a purple and a few blacks.
“Where’s you staying?” the old woman slurred as I turned to go.
“Guess,” I replied and headed for the cashier’s window.
By midnight I was chasing losses in a hand-dealt two-deck game at The Cromwell. Far from putting me out of sorts where lust was concerned, the old lady’s advances kept me thinking in that direction. The Cromwell’s attempt at evoking old-school Vegas made me start thinking about hookers again. Red carpet and dark wood, some brass here and there. Some leather, too, and the strong smell of something like fake strawberry car freshener. Still, playing two-deck in that atmosphere with the crowd rapidly dwindling at this time of night was a nice change of pace, so I decided to just play out my last few chips, take the loss if need be, and make it up later. I was tired and hungry and getting horny. Sleep, a sandwich, or sex, at least one of the three was what was called for. Since I didn’t actually want to go to sleep yet, and since no enthusiastic women were around, I moved on to food.
As it would happen, as it always seems to happen, I met a couple of drunk chicks in their early 30s while grabbing some late night food after a long day. A blonde in tight jeans and knee boots, and a brunette in white spandex and oversized pink sweater. Not hookers, I thought, but I couldn’t put it past them. Strippers working the gray area for plausible deniability, maybe? They weren’t bad but had that cynical edge that is not at all feminine and suggested the same number of years spent on the cock carousel that they’d spent in school. I really wasn’t here for this but, again, it was after midnight and they weren’t bad even though they were loud and stupid and talking too loud about venereal disease, about the clap. I decided to keep talking with them and see if they sobered up once their food came, but everyone’s food was a long-time coming. Unlike the shit tests.
“It’s kind of creepy that you sat so close to us,” the blonde said to me.
I smirked. “It’s kind of creepy that y’all are making a mess and talking about the clap,” I replied.
“Y’all?” she said. “Redneck!”
“Only on Friday night,” I answered.
They glared at me. I couldn’t tell if they were more drunk or confused.
“You’re kind of a dick, aren’t you?” the brunette finally said.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “A big one.”
“You have a big dick?” the blonde said, leaning over the table to look into my lap.
“There’s one way to find out,” I replied, “but not if you have gonorrhea.”
“Oh jush kidding about that,” the brunette said. “We’re in Room 1719.”
“Oh my god, bitch!” the blonde said. “No she wasn’t. See?” At that, the blonde reached into the brunette’s purse and showed me the gonorrhea prescription. She said it was foreplay. I was slightly drunk and my food was ready. I picked it up at the end of the bar and stayed there to eat it, realizing I almost paid a very high price for a sandwich.
As I was finishing up the sandwich and chips, one of the girls knocked a beer bottle off of their table and it broke on the floor, glass everywhere and foamy beer fizzing. They immediately began harassing the dude who went over to clean it up. And that is how foreplay becomes floorplay, I thought as I signed the check and headed for the door.
Back on the strip, well-fed, non-fucked, and a cold drizzle at 2 am. Rain misting my glasses distorting the bright lights so that it was Starry Night everywhere I looked. Braced by the unexpected chill, a new plan began to form. Fuck sleep, I thought. And fuck hookers, which amused me. I can get laid back home. I can sleep when I’m dead. Time is irrelevant and calendars are for suckers. I was there to play.