Happy Friday, internet. Time to kick back, put your feet up, and enjoy a well-deserved couple days of R & R. Or if you’re a whoremonger like me, 48 hours of shameful depravity. But for now, here’s another installment of my prolific, self-published, wildly unpopular novel, The Suburbs of Babylon…
There is a place in hell for me and my friends.—Morrissey
Today I have some money. Two hundred-eighty bucks I made by taking an experimental allergy drug to test its side effects. I am pleased to report that I came through the study unscathed, barring a case of cotton mouth, headaches, and a rapid heartbeat, so you should see the product on your drugstore shelves any day now.
I am trembling at the possibilities awarded by my newfound wealth. I’m tempted to go to the Cat and spend it all on a girl who looks like Jane, but where I might’ve thought that was a good idea a month ago, somehow the thought just fills me with a sick, empty feeling. Although, the image of what she’d do for that much money is staggering. And frightening.
Instead, I’ve decided to take Art up on a last minute offer to go to Las Vegas for the weekend. I have never been, and the need to leave town, while unwise considering how quickly my cash could disappear, is nonetheless an impulse I am all too happy to fall helpless to. I’m feeling that feeling like before Mexico—that whatever ills wait to befall me, I am eager to accept them—and secretly, I am hoping for as much malady as possible. So Vegas will be entirely fitting.
* * *
Art has insisted we eat before departing. We are at a taco stand on the corner of Laurel Canyon and Oxnard. It’s Art, myself, and Art’s friend, Jack. I don’t know Jack, have no desire to know Jack, and am therefore not saying much. I tend to clam up around strangers. Old habit from the orphanage. We’re leaving straight from here for the desert, and I already have to urinate. I have ordered one taco—rationing my money for the trip. The man next to me is consuming what looks like an entire cod, fried to brown crispiness. I don’t even think it’s been scaled. He is scraping the meat off the thin bones with his fingers, crunching on the fins, savoring the eyeballs. My taco is ablaze; it is too hot to pick up. I have also ordered a medium Coke, which is a can of soda and a Styrofoam cup. A large Coke is the same can and simply a larger cup.
Everything is better when you’re traveling. The idea that this taco stand is transitory and tonight I’ll be hundreds of miles away makes it pleasant, almost important. It’s the same feeling you get in airports and train stations. Something the mind still gets captured by, a remnant of those ancestral days when people traveled on foot or by mule. The idea of passing countless miles in a day is as unfathomable as it is taken for granted.
I must figure out how to see life this way. As a journey. It’s a worn-out cliché, but I think there’s truth in it, enough to maybe curb my feelings of chaos, meaninglessness.
* * *
We’re on the road. Passing through Apple Valley, between Palmdale and Bishop. The landscape is barren; distant brown hills broken by stone quarries like pulverized albino mountains. An occasional scatter of Joshua trees. Miles to the south is a huge brown cloud—a dust storm over a small town, the buildings barely visible. We’re going a hundred miles an hour. The mountain range that minutes ago was shrouded in mist ahead of us has fallen behind, my brief glimpse of its sun-scorched surface romanticizing and mystifying this deserted countryside. Every so often there will be a house sitting alone and still like a photograph off the highway. Sporadic bushes stretch over the land, making it look like reptilian skin. We snake our way along its surface. . .
. . . We’re almost at State Line. The road we are on is one I’ve never traveled before, yet I dream about this stretch of highway regularly. Four days ago I dreamed I was trying to get to Jane and kept getting on the wrong freeway—this one. I don’t know how my mind conjured up this place—perhaps from a picture in a magazine, though I don’t recall ever seeing one—but it must have some kind of significance to be so prominent. Or maybe not, maybe it’s as unimportant as everything else, and therefore no more or less special.
As nighttime blankets over us, covering the scenery like eyelids, we crest the hill and head down into Vegas. The spotlight from the top of the Luxor guides us in, and my mouth waters with the anticipation of temptation.
* * *
After dropping off our things at the Luxor, we sped across to Excalibur, where the buffet was said to be legendary. We ate like knights, feasting on sirloin tip, honey-baked ham, turkey, baby-back ribs, fried chicken, baked potatoes, rice, fish fillets, crab legs, pizza, salad, shrimp cocktail, and jell-o. For dessert, cherry cheesecake, bread pudding, chocolate pudding, blueberry cobbler, pumpkin and apple pie, brownies, and ice cream sundaes complete with marshmallow sauce, hot fudge, nuts, and a cherry. The atmosphere was weirdly festive. Things even got a little kooky as we dared each other to eat Tabasco on ice cream and whole lemon wedges. This sent us into hysterics, inexplicably had us giggling like schoolgirls.
Back at the Luxor I became proficient at Pai Gow, Caribbean Stud, and Blackjack—that is to say, proficient at losing. I was down eighty bucks by the time I quit, and plummeting erratically into a deep depression. Meanwhile the other guys were over at the craps tables, and both up a hundred bucks, which of course didn’t help my attitude any. So I slunk off alone to see what I could see on the mean and gleaming streets of Sin City.
* * *
4:20 a.m. I am alone. I made myself wait until 4:00 to spend my stack of quarters on the slots. It was gone in twenty seconds. I’m resting outside Bally’s. I don’t know why but I can’t bring myself to go to the hotel room. The Strip has calmed some, but people still wander about. A couple passes me on their way into the casino. If I were here with a woman, I’d be making love to her right now. What could a man find in a blackjack table that could beat silky bare skin and a perfumed embrace? Speaking of blackjack, I was at it again earlier and am now out half my money. And speaking of love-making, I have determined to find myself a hooker, though I’ve no idea what I’ll do with her when and if I do.
5:50. The sun is rising. The sky is turning a clean, hopeful indigo, the horizon streaked in brilliant pink-orange. The foreground green of the MGM Grand punctuates the Candy-land impression of this place. It all looks surreal, or unreal, like some kind of twisted version of Heaven.
I want to continue on in the direction of the sunrise. There is the dim vision of New York somewhere over the mountains, under that daylight. But what I see is further on—or else I can sense, under the soft blue glow of this sky, that my destination is not a place but a state in time. A perpetual sunrise. I’ve been up for nearly twenty-four hours, yet in this instant I am without physical sensation, not above melodrama, perfectly content, almost satiated with gratification. My hopes are rising with the sun, and even as the moment is fading with the coming day, I feel I have escaped however briefly the mountain of sorrow that has followed me, the ocean of despair that drowns my mind gone in the instant of twilight and being rekindled now by an emerging star.
* * *
It’s 6:30 and I’m lost in the Tropicana. Glancing in a mirror as I pass, it looks as if I’ve grown a coating of white fur on my nose and cheeks, but I know it’s just delusion. From the way I’m staggering about, people probably think I’m drunk. But it’s just that I’ve had no sleep, you know.
Middle-aged women in sharp dress eye me hungrily as they pass, clutching their buckets of coins. The gambling never stops. The endless search for the palpable yet intangible.
. . .7:40. I’m back in Excalibur again, watching morning aerobics on ESPN. Here’s an interesting note: during my overnight stroll, spanning six hours, I did not see a single cop or homeless person, I guess because nothing’s illegal here and no one has spare change to be panhandled. The only people I encountered on the street were fanatical gamblers in transit to or from casinos. One man in an Armani suit was sobbing and wringing his beard. I did not see a single hooker, but I spent a good deal of time dreaming of making love to Jane, the tears flowing freely.
I debated whether to eat breakfast, but have decided to find the hotel room and get some sleep. Whatever I thought I’d find, or discover about life, on my overnight odyssey has escaped me, at least for now. Perhaps it will come to light after I’ve rested.”
Swing back by next Friday for part 2 of this chapter chronicling my very first ever visit to Las Vegas, a locale that would become a regular vacation spot for me in my 30s. This was by far not the most debauched of my visits, but it’s the one against which I judge all others. It helped solidify Vegas as a geographical archetype in my imagination. Bangkok is better on all counts, but that should diminish Sin City’s sparkle at all. If you can’t get to BKK, Vegas is a respectable 2nd choice.