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10.10.03 2:09 a.m.

Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas ... with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether.

 -Hunter S. Thompson  

Previously in Xenology: Emily became a National Champion and then hurt her knee.

The Fear
With all due apologies and thanks to HST for the next two entries.
This was our first night in Vegas. It is 11:30, Vegas time. Owing to frequent naps across the continental States, I am feeling very little jetlag. I do not actually know what jetlag is, but suspect it involves one needing to sleep a lot, like malaria. Or perhaps I had always lived my life on Vegas time so this is just a homecoming. Emily is very much asleep in our ginormous bed, feeling the general lag of being an Emily.
You notice these lizards don't have any trouble moving around in this muck  
That's because they have claws on their feet.
We awoke a little before five this morning in her sister's apartment in the Upper East Side. The sun was not yet up and my body rebelled against the idea that it had to be until I quelled my corporeal insurrection with a sharp jab in the arm.
The apartment was tiny to me, but is evidently worth $1600 a month in New York City. Still, it bore the marks that two archeologists live herein, the various faux artifacts and a well-chosen collection of jazz CDs that would speak well of culture and worldliness even were they covered in an inch of dust and still in cellophane. Neither of these conditions were present.
I slept little despite the fold-up mattress on the living room floor, my body preferring to express its anxiety about this trip with excessive perspiration and sudden onset OCD. I was actually staring at the unconscious M when her alarm went off. I cursed the alarm nonetheless for being a physical manifestation of my insomnia. She has evidently grown far too used to my peculiarities for she barely reacted. Though she did whack me with all of her strength in her sleep earlier in the night and then lovingly apologized, neither event which she remembers. Therefore, I am karmically allowed to startle her once and not suffer the Wrath of the Broken Ninja.
Before I continue, I would like to give full credit to her sister Lauren. Not only did she allow us to stay in her apartment, preventing a much more painful time of departure, but she remembered that Emily's birthday is Sunday and chose to give her an ice cream cake (she couldn't have known Emily hates ice cream cake) and a Tibetan bracelet that trumps both the collection of Homestarrunner merchandise I gave her before we began this trip and, very likely, the super secret special gift I will spring on M sometime on the 12th. Well, maybe not the latter, but it still was the sort of gift I should have gotten her and inspired both admiration and jealousy from my pink heart.
We stepped outside the apartment and, despite it being before dawn, a cab immediately stopped for us. We sat in the cab headed for JFK, still too much lapsing citizens of Nod to speak. I turned on Flea to read some e-mail as a means to remember consciousness. Emily motioned for the device and wrote, "I am supposed to be going to Vegas to fulfill a dream. Instead I'm going there to keep dreaming." I read over this ten times and nodded my silent consolation.
I slept though the flight to Los Angeles, our illogical layover. I awoke as the plane landed and glared out of the window. Emily soothed, "It's time to get off the plane, Bone Daddy."
"What? No! We can't stop here! This is bat country!"
"It's LA."
"That's what I said."
Best seventy five cents spent
The airport was oozing pretension. Men wandered blindly with cell phones sucked to their ears like leeches. Worse, Emily informed me that the McDonald's here served health food. That just wasn't tolerable.
"M, this sounds like big trouble. You're going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over. As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top. And you'll need the cocaine. Tape recorder for special messages. Acapulco shirts. Get the hell out of L.A. for at least 48 hours."
"How about 72?"
"Even better. Can we still get the car with no top?"
"No, it is another airplane for us. It's a half an hour trip." She smiled, possibly humoring me before continuing, "Now, no more of that talk or I'll put the fucking leeches on you, understand?"
I wanted to leave the airport and touch the Pacific, but Emily and logic reminded me that the layover was tens of minutes and the ocean was far. Nonetheless, I waved fond greetings to the coast from thousands of feet in the air and silently promised I would swim in her one day. Not that the Atlantic does not have the exact same water, but one cannot drown in the same ocean twice.
Vegas has, so far, met my every expectation and disappointed me terribly. We exited the plane and were greeted by row after row of slot machines. I dropped my backpack and told Emily she could pick me up on her way home. After she lost seventy-five cents in the closest machine, we were disillusioned enough to want to actually venture to our hotel.
We are staying at the ostensibly world famous Circus Circus. Circus Circus is what the world would be doing every Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is important to me only because it is one of the settings for Fear and Loathing, though the hotel refused to actually be in the movie because it wouldn't extol the family-friendly attitude of losing one's life savings and getting wasted from watery mixed drinks women dressed as floozies distributed freely. The trulls aren't even dressed like clowns. Circus Circus does not have rooms with a circus theme. At least, this is not the case where we are staying. I had expected polka dot sheets and harlequins leering from each corner. I am not, per se, complaining. The accommodations are pleasant but totally usual. This room could exist in any hotel in any state in America. We are not connected to Circus Circus in any physical way, instead occupying what would be the evil clowns' servant quarters. This is another thing, aside from eerie murals on certain walls in the casino, there are no clowns to be found. I am terrified of clowns, as all God fearing souls should be, but I would still have liked to be unnerved by them around every corner. What else are we paying one hundred dollars a night for? Oh, right, the ginormous bed.
Home sweet home  
After wandering through the casino and realizing that gambling with machines does not appeal to us because we cannot win and gambling with people is equally off-putting because we think the people will cheat or pressure us, we walked the famous strip to do some shopping. The streets are literally littered with porn. Every available surface exhorts the viewer to call up and order a prostitute for less than fifty dollars. Quickly the pictures of naked women lost all context and daring. There were just contorted massed of naked flesh. It was all surprisingly ugly. I tried to later explain this to Melissa and she couldn't quite see how massive quantities of pornography were a bad thing. If one cannot escape a plague of silicone breasts, if they attack from every angle, they cease to be particularly erogenous. If I wanted to see contorted, decontextualized flesh, I'd see Zumanity. (I really want to see Zumanity, it's my kind of strip club.) There are children walking the streets being handed porn and I am embarrassed that I am some how a part of the culture that feels the need to place thousands of pictures of naked women at every possible eye level.
I think, perhaps, that Emily and I are not Vegas people. We do not like gambling when we cannot win. We do not wish to have sex with prostitutes. What was I doing here? What was the meaning of this trip? Emily was supposed to be competing in team trials before her knee was injured, but this can no longer occur. Even though I tend to find some of the Tae Kwon Do events tedious when they do not involve Emily, I would much rather watch them at 7 in the morning that be beaten by the sensory overload that assaults in every direction or the drunkards who think "SHOW US YOR TITS, BITCH!" is a particularly witty bon mot when screamed from a car at me. The long hair should only confuse someone for half a second. After that, you are kind of gay, frat boy.
Perhaps what most colors my view of Vegas slightly puce is my pity for Emily. She is enjoying herself as much as she can and is excellent company, as always. She has been so loving and sweet through this day that refuses to ever end. But I see the disappointment in her eyes. To be so close and to have worked so damned hard only to be pulled away because she landed a kick wrong a few months ago is an inexcusable slap from the Fates. Before we left, she told me she was too embarrassed to ask for her money back for a formal dinner for the competitors. This is over a hundred and fifty dollars, but she won't ask because she can't stand even facing it right now. It is so dishonorable to her that reminding her how much Victoria Secrets she could buy with the refunded still didn't move her. Her knee keeps going out while we walk and I wish the moving walkways extended as far as the eye could see so she would not hurt.
I hurt as well, though differently and less. My foot is blistered because I forgot to bring my sandals here and thought new ones were more logical than wearing my boots in the middle of a desert. You can guess that logic and myself are not on the best of terms. This is one of my essential rules for visiting Vegas. I may as well give you the whole list.

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. If you only have army boots, wear these. Sweaty feet are quite a sight better than blisters and fallen arches. Unless one has a car, everything in Vegas is far away and one must be decidedly peripatetic. Even if one is within a hotel of casino, you will need to do quite a bit of walking because everything is designed to prevent your ever leaving. Casinos function like human roach motels, with moving walkways that lure one in and only a small door half a mile away marked exit.
  2. Have a water bottle. While we humans are ideally suited from subtropical environments, outright deserts are lethal. Leaving any building instantly subjects one to near desiccation. My eyes hurt constantly, even at night, because they are so dry. Without frequent gulps of water, one will quickly lose one's will to live and turns into a mummy. Then someone will sell you at a fake Indian Bazaar and gamble away the money.
  3. Do not gamble away winnings. Granted, this is not nearly as important as the water bottle advice. However, it's a damned good idea. In walking past a slot machine, I thought it would be fun to play it once. I won $20. In a few minutes, I no longer had my $20. So set aside a small amount for gambling and if you should actually turn a profit, consider it a message from the gods to cash out and take a prostitute or loved one to a nice dinner.
  4. Eat at buffets. I know that this may seem a little strange, but one must keep in mind that Vegas is primarily known for its lavish buffets. One should also know that the aridity of the desert air puts one's stomach in suspended animation (digestion requires water and your body expects this to be at a premium). One meal a day can more than suffice for a healthy person. If you are particularly rotund, however, the vultures can pick your bones clean in an hour, literally and metaphorically.
After returning from a necessary perusal of the strip, we turned our attentions back to Circus Circus. As far as I can tell, it wholly lacks a giant, rotating restaurant, as seen in Fear and Loathing. This is unfortunate, as my whole intent here was to stumble off of it in an ether induced binge. Then again, I also do not have ether or the urge to behave like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel.
The casino had gained no luster since our initial passage. We wandered up some dark, unlit, back stairs in search of acrobats and Nazi clowns. At the apex sat a carnival. It is perhaps strange that we had somehow missed a carnival ripe with barkers and crappy prizes. However, this is Vegas. We were not meant to pull ourselves away from the epileptic flashes of the slots.
We ducked into a photo booth to plan our strategy given this new information. Emily noticed with delight that the machine gave us the option to meld our faces together to see what our progeny would look like. I looked carefully at the picture of a man combined with a chimp and was reticent to commit our easily lost money to yet another machine. Then again, the chimp man bore a canny resemblance to a certain politician, so I decided the booth did perhaps possess some manner of precognitive skill. Five dollars later, we had a photo of a monstrosity. Kicking the machine, I demanded a do over. The machine, stolid stoic that it was, just smiled a deformed rictus using Emily's face. Bastard child of a blender and videogame. We left the machine in disgust, still taking our malformed daughter. My side of the family has no history of monstrosity, this thing must get it from Emily.
I walked up to one of the barkers, exhorting me to win a purple monkey by throwing darts. I made strong eye contact with the faux carnie and spat, "Let's get down to brass tacks. How much for the ape?"
The woman was uneasy, that was to be expected. She looked backward to the aforementioned stuffed simians, terrified that they couldn't feel her distress or heed her warning. They smiled dumbly. "They..." she began, but stammered. My eyes did not leave her. Why give her the satisfaction? "They are... Three darts for a dollar."
I looked at her hard, lifted a dollar from my pocket, but Emily pulled me away. "Are you harassing the carnies?"
"Yes. I was. Hmmm."
Our night ended soon after this exchange, though it is impossible to know when. Time is made more abstract in casinos, a place where clocks are verboten. As, evidently, are windows. No monkeys were won, nor a single quarter more. We did see hydrocephalic clowns lumbering at one another like painted, inverted sumo wrestlers. We've got to get out of here. I think I'm getting the fear.

Soon in Xenology: More Keilaina-y fun. Viva Las Vegas. Dave and the chumpkin.

last watched: Bend It Like Beckham
reading: Shadow of the Hegemon
listening: The Nightmare Before Christmas
wanting: The abilty to count cards or souls.
interesting thought: The city of Angels was too busy with earthly matters.
moment of zen: Passing through time.
someday I must: Win.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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