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10.13.03 11:45 p.m.

I haven't found a drug yet that can get you anywhere near as high as sitting at a desk writing, trying to imagine a story no matter how bizarre it is, as much as going out and getting into the weirdness of reality and doing a little time on The Proud Highway.

 -Hunter S. Thompson  

Previously in Xenology: Emily became a National Champion and then hurt her knee. Nonetheless, we went to Vegas.

With all due apologies and thanks to HST for this entry.
The next day brought a new challenge. We would reach an Indian bazaar that exists at the Excalibur or be inconvenienced trying. The goal was a loose one, I know, we just needed some focal point to guide our feet away from Circus Circus and into the desert air.
This is not to say we actually reached our destination.
The day was spent in aimless wandering, as all days in Vegas must be. On every street corner, we shot daggers at the... well, the pimps' lackey who handed out catalogs of prostitutes to obviously underage boys and girls. Our barbs could not begin to puncture their sun-hardened hides. I witnessed one man grab a brochure of debauchery, realize what it was, and slam it full force into the next lackey. The abused lackey barely registered a reaction, only dropping this alien catalog to the ground and trying to hand the pugnacious man a new one.
Harrah's Kreepy Klown
Upon passing the harlequin Harrah's, our mutual gaze was hailed by Caesar himself. Or, more likely, a gaudy statue in front of Caesar's Palace. Still, it was the only object on the horizon not flashing and thus provided our retinas respite. Lacking any basic sense or temporal obligation, we decided to pay this Caesar fellow a visit.
We stepped in the shade of the building and the ground beneath us began to silently slide us in though a process not unlike peristalsis. "Damn, M, this place is swank. This is, by far, the longest moving walkway I have ever been on." The walkway seemed to go for half a mile taking us past the trachea and into the esophagus.
"Yeah... Hey, how do you think we get out of here?"
"What do you mean? We'll just take the..." The walkway moved in only one direction. There was nothing remotely like an exit. "Well, maybe there is a separate walkway up ahead that will... M... Are they going to eat us?"
"That's the only reasonable excuse for this."
The walkway, not surprisingly, did not drop us into the belly of some ravenous hellbeast. At least, not in the literal sense. Like all casinos, it was dark and on the air-conditioned border of what Stephen King would call dank. This had less to do with any inherent humidity in the air and far more to do with the cigarettes dangling from every crimson lip and the water-downed cocktails on every slot machine. I was innately repulsed by the cybernetic symbiosis of soccer mom and video poker. They look like caricatures of used car dealers from Dallas, and sweet Jesus, there were a hell of a lot of them, still humping the American dream, that vision of the big winner somehow emerging from the last minute pre-dawn chaos of a stale Vegas casino. There was the steady clicking of coins on metal that the uninitiated person believes to be the sound of victory. It is, in fact, the clatter of resignation, of cashing out so you still have bus fare back to Memphis. We did, of course, spend a few dollars among the metallic cattle, assuming they would take us for their own and could be studied. Why not? Move confidently into their midst.
After fighting on the side of a dubious god in an underwater race and walking for hours, we managed to find the exit and, in finding the exit, a hope of food. But hope, like greased okra, is a slippery bastard.
Race for Atlantis M (with Kung-Fu grip)
We could see our dining destination, the Rio. "M, how can it be so damned far away if I can see it?"
"This is a trick of the light. Everything can be seen from a certain vantage point in Vegas; nothing can actually be touched. Try to put it out of you mind."
This was ridiculous advice and she knew it. My mind was on the heat, the cloudless sky above that allowed the smiling face of Ra to bleach skeletons for as long as vertebrates went amphibious. I looked at the reflection of the sun on the glossy vagina gaping from a pornographers' calling card on the pavement. "You better take care of me Lord, if you don't you're gonna have me on your hands," I swore.
Emily turned her eyes back to me to get me to repeat my oath. I nodded my disinterest in using an ounce more energy in getting to the Rio than I was necessary. My rolling on my eyes and bob of the head were not lucid enough to elicit the proper understanding in her steadily frying brain. Our vibrations were getting nasty. But why? Was there no communication? Had we deteriorated to the level of dumb beasts?
That evening, full on every conceivable kind of comestible and with a bag full of pilfered rolls and fruit, Emily and I wandered back to our hotel. Our stomachs bordered on becoming distended, but we were not satisfied. Vegas had still yet to place any lasting mark upon us.
"I want to get my belly button pierced," pronounced Emily gravely on a free bus we found back to the heart of our street. Her knee kept giving out and my feet were just grateful not to be in direct use. "I've wanted to for months and didn't because I was so worried about getting kicked in the stomach at team trials and... well... I guess that's not going to happen."
Never in my life had I heard someone so forlorn that they would not have the wind knocked out of them. Nevertheless, piercings are nearly as appropriate in Vegas as weddings to strangers and far less bindings. At out stop, we asked the slightly freaky locals where they recommended having a needle stuck in Emily. To the immense dissatisfaction of my feet, the "best place on the whole strip" was on the opposite end of the strip.
Emily, once having conceived an idea, will pursue it until its logical end. She may claim this as a fault and is a byproduct of a Montessori upbringing and OCD - and my extremities were partial to this excuse - but it bespeaks a basic tenacity to ones wants that is rare and (generally) charming.
We arrived at what looked to be a rather ordinary tattoo parlor. Yet as the rest of the strip offered places where the only sterility was imposed upon the staff by sexually transmitted diseases, this was more than sufficient. The deal was made in seconds and a heavily tattooed gent ushered M into a backroom. Having an inclination not to see my girlfriend murdered in Vegas, I scuttled back and poised my camera to capture the event. As the man washed his hands I asked M, "Can I tattoo your face?"
Her eyes went wide. "I'm not going to let you cut me up!"
"Who said anything about cutting you up? I just want to cut a little Z in your forehead!" "No."
"You're no fun."
And it was done. The needle had wormed its way through here and the pink barbell was in place. Emily touched it tenderly, perhaps fearing that the slightest jarring would result in a gush of blood. Not a drop was spilt and our tattooed guide to the wonders of needles made it clear in his taciturn fashion that our business with him was done and we should consider quickly leaving.
Emily and I slowly walked back to Circus Circus, as it had become quite late. Emily had her shirt pulled up so her belly button would be properly aired. It looked only slightly silly.
M is a ninja!
Two men approached us. The scruffy Caucasian man confronted us, "You got any change? My car broke down and I have to buy a bus ticket to Michigan."
His Hispanic companion began to make noises that sounded a bit too much like a hyena about to feed on a lion cub. Emily and I psychically appraised the situation and conferred. Emily could hurt them quite badly if they moved aggressively, but preferred not to do so owing to her knee (which had been going out increasingly often). This man had, sans his little mewling friend, tried to hit us up for some spare change on our way to pierce Emily, claiming that he had to get to Texas and was half starved. It was decided he was a desperate and slightly dangerous gambler who would see no real problem spreading around his bad luck.
We gave him some pocket change, not even amounting to a dollar, but he was not really backing off. Ironically, it was my jewelry that appeased him. In sighting my hands and their many pointy edges, his friend began to chant the names of bad eighties metal bands. Evidently he thought I was into this and thus felt some camaraderie. We would not have to fight tonight.

Leaving Las Vegas
Vegas is at an end, nearly before it began. Often I say these melodramatic turns of phrase and always I mean them. However, this time it is true. What Mark Twain said of houseguests works inversely in the case of resort towns. We had just begun to find our rhythm here; the soul of Lost Vegas as it manifests within two straight-laced but aesthetically starved twentysomethings.
How can I leave this?
Emily is 24 now. This is a different section of the story.
I might write all of this because I am having early onset nostalgia. I may also write because I cannot sleep owing to the deep malaise endings inspire in me. It is nothing new, I used to hide during birthday parties and moisten my pillow with tears and mucous because all the Christmas presents had been unwrapped. Somehow my emotions figured it made more sense to ignore the lingering enjoyment and mope.
Emily thought we would be engaged by trip's end. We were not going to be, as much as I tried to convince my sense of propriety and drama that this would be a suitable peripetia for the story. I live in my story, but I do have to touch reality and stop myself from making oaths I am not ready to keep. I am getting ahead of myself.
Emily is asleep next to me, a common phrase in these proceedings. She pouts in her sleep and twitches occasionally. I'm not certain where her mind is. I hope it is a world where I can remain in the flow of the story enough to keep her happy.
Days in Vegas stretch a week each and are still too short. It may help that my feet were blistered, bruised, and fatigued from tens of miles of walking through what is basically a paved desert. Still, it is too short and I complain too much when my moisture runs low and the sun bears down. By this I mean "always." My blood is too thick for this climate; it prevents me from explaining myself properly.
I don't really care that I'm not sleeping. I get amazingly filling rest in cramped economy seats.
The shrine to Roy Horn
Emily laments not that she has to return to life in the northeast and leave the phallic palm trees for barren arms reaching toward the gray sky but that she has to abandon what little sleep she lets herself get here for nursing, a sixty hour a week job with no pay or benefits.
Funny how quickly I can go from personal dislike to fondness, though only when I attach some obscure meaning to a place. Taken purely on its merits, Las Vegas is not a place for me. Las Vegas is brash and loud. The trees in Vegas sing the worst of the top forties. The strip is filled with desperate and lonely souls who donate money like blood, hoping the next pull of the lever will bring a heart. I could cover this place if I could maintain a detachment, but the place infests one like pubic lice. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I want a car, or would if we had a few more days. I don't want to drive far, only off of the strip and toward the mountains of which Emily has twenty photos. Mountains always fascinate her and I know she was not taking the picture owing to the ironic juxtaposition of opulent yet trashy commercialism with majestic and violent megaliths in the sky. She took the pictures in a way to capture them so she could climb them in her sleep. (Is this why she twitches?) They are the one thing she wants here and the one this we cannot have. Walking to them is not an option, close though they seem. It is a psychological given that one cannot venture too far from the strip unprotected and expect to live very long. As water bottles are a fixture in every tourist hand, there is some basis for this attitude.
The day was fruitful, in a Las Vegan fashion. We found the Bazaar, only to be disappointed that it was little more than a mall with a tan brick fašade. Granted, there were remarkably limber performers undulated therein, begging for tips.
"These people are amazing, M. Do you think they hope they will be discovered here?" "I don't know. My gods! She just shot an arrow with her foot!"
"Do you think, then, that working in a mall in Vegas qualifies as having been discovered?" I hoped not, these kinesthetic geniuses deserved better than begging for change. Perhaps they deserved to uncomfortably arouse me in Zumanity, but that was still something.
The day melted away into night and we waited for the fountains at Bellagio to being their hourly rumba. "My backpack is too damned heavy. You know what we need? A dwark to bring our bags back to the room."
"Yeah, we really do." She looked excitedly as the fountains began to spray. "...What's a 'dwark?'"
"I think it's actually a misprint in my copy of Fear and Loathing and it should be 'dwarf.' I like dwark so much more though."
"Definitely. Then we could make the dwark follow us around and fetch us things," enthused M.
"Exactly, the Dwark would be like our personal assistant and pet. Like a child." With these works, the hideous picture of the daughter M and I will never create was named.
I waited in line for the Bellagio buffet, evidently the most expensive in town. We told one another that we were doing this because it was Emily's birthday, but we would have come here eventually, despite and because the price was so massive. We are easily led.
The Dwark
I gave her the ring with a subdued "happy birthday" when we both had a plate of rich food and she didn't do much of anything. In fact, she was characterized primarily by the lack of doing anything, including breathing. She just stopped like a scratched DVD without too much pixilation. Then "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" began to chirp over the speakers. What kind of rat bastard psychotic would play that song right now, at this moment? Finally she stuttered, "Is this? Do you? Are you? Are we? Is this?"
This reaction was almost the reason I was going to forget I had another present for her. She wasn't going to forget. I was hoping I would be able to give her the ring in an unambiguous enough fashion that she would not suddenly incur a speech impediment but I had not given it enough genuine thought. I feel now, despite her insistence that it is okay, that I have ruined things. I feel as though we have traversed a threshold and cannot go back, despite my unreadiness. I did not ask her, because I do not have a proper job, still live with my parents and, most importantly, am not ready. So, logically it does not seem I have crossed any threshold, save that she now has a pronounced diamond ring that may have once been an engagement ring. She will take great pleasure in showing everyone, if by everyone I mean her mother and sister. She will have to create some fiction, however close to reality it is, to explain how she came to this place with a ring and no oath. This will not please her female relations, who will think me... I'm not quite sure what such a one is thought. Does this happen often?
I meant well. I thought, actually, that the ring was insufficient as a means to a contract. Emily informs me I am wrong and told me exactly when I should have proposed to her (after dinner, as the world famous Fountains of Bellagio danced). This is neglecting that I am not ready to propose.
I have made some turn and feel, despite all suggestions to the contrary, that I have done something wrong. This has honestly managed to supplant my forward thinking nostalgic malaise.
I don't know where to go from here and what this all will mean in a few weeks. Did I disappoint? Did I miss a chance? Am I doing all of this wrong? I am not uncouth; I know the rules of polite society. Can objects make oaths I cannot? Are such contracts binding? Why can't a birthday present just be a birthday present to represent many years together?
I feel... not quite claustrophobic but advanced upon. Things are moving too fast.
Emily, after a period of being at the brink of tears and staring at the ring as though it were sapping her essence, is behaving largely normally. Still, her parting words before the land of Nod were, "Can I tell you something and you promise not to be upset?"
"I hate when you phrase things that way, but I will try."
"I am disappointed you didn't ask me to marry you."
I cast a pained look at her through the darkness separating us. "Yes, I knew that."
"Oh, good. Then it's okay and not a secret."
"Sweet dreams."
If I cannot soon give her the commitment her biological clock seeks, do I lose her to some crunchy blonde?
I wish we had done more tonight. I needed to stop thinking for a while more. Even walking back to the hotel may have been respite enough, but we took a taxi that charged me $13.00 for a five-minute trip. Emily had asked and I had tentatively agreed that we would spend a few tens on the "Terror Dome" a horror based theme part that is advertised constantly on channel 13 of our television on a look and it occupying a large section of our hotel. Once back in the room, Emily discovered that Jerry Macguire, a movie she admits to watching twice a week for a year of college, was on. Her clothes came off in a distinctly nonsensual fashion and she was done for the night. Thereafter, I was trapped in the hotel room with my thoughts and a girl too medicated to make use of the king sized bed for anything more scandalous than a few hours sleep. I sometimes hate the inside of my head, so unctuous with misspent thoughts flung against the inside of my skull.
I will return to autumn and a world that is not wholly mine and likely will never be. I have a loft bed and the space there under.
I know intellectually that I am the problem. The world is likely not excluding me for the festivities if this is how I feel (and remember, I cry during parties) so very often. Furthermore, since I lack any feasible short-term solutions, it is possible to the extent of probability that I am in a self-defeating cycle.
There are small conquests. Last Sunday, owing to the addition of Brooke to my potential friends and interesting and non-threatening activity in the library, I genuinely enjoyed a day of work. School is not painful, even when I have to wake up at 7:30 to attend it, but I still do not wish to attend. My girlfriend has thus far not left me as a travel companion because I give her rings that mean nowhere near what they should (herein the self defeating behaviors manifest, as this paragraph was supposed to make me feel hope or what have you). I don't want to feel good in comparison with others, as that is not true joy. I want to feel good within myself. I am not so lost in the labyrinth of my own self-pity that I don't remember with photos clarity the moments of contentment I often have.
I should not be writing all of this, I am not in my proper mind. Likely I will edit this down into reasonable sound bites and dream for another day that a slightly affected man-child can make it as a writer, especially when he only foments novels in his own head and rarely adds appendages to short works. One step at a time and I have to get all of this out of my system before I can move on and create a being out of clay into which I can breathe the word of life. Does anyone much care that I am quaintly referential, or did that go the way of proper Imagism? Does anyone worth knowing care what proper Imagism has to do with references? I didn't think so.
On the plane home, Emily began to grasp the nature of my discomfort or, perhaps, was merely trying to define what I could not. "This," she said, blinding me with a ray from the ring, "should mean something more. It should suggest an increased level of our shared commitment to one another. Thus, I believe it is our ho-sharing ring. As long as I wear this, we must share all of our hoes."
"That sounds fine to me. That makes it bling-bling. You, if I remember the native customs, are now a pimp."
"Fine. Good. It's decided. Hoes. Sharing."
And this, perhaps, is why I think I could marry her some day.
M with volcano
This is not to say she doesn't want that greater commitment. In fact, she thought it would be quite a lark to inform my parents that we had actually gotten married in Vegas. To my surprised they were not wholly incredulous.
My mother kept asking me to shake my head yes or no if Emily was telling the truth. I was staring at the corners of the dark room and nodded my approval of the lack of cobwebs, which was taken to mean M spoke soothe. My mother said after a bit of shock, "You are very stupid, but have saved us thousands of dollars on a wedding."
She wasn't disappointed when Emily finally let the ruse slip.

Soon in Xenology: More Keilaina-y fun. Dave and the chumpkin. Corinne. A sleepover. Halloween.

last watched: Jerry Macguire
reading: Shadow of the Hegemon
listening: The Nightmare Before Christmas
wanting: To be one of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.
interesting thought: You're wrong to think Vegas gives one cognitive functioning.
moment of zen: Sharing hoes.
someday I must: Be sincere.

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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