Everyone debauched but everyone a virgin in some way. You can’t have tried everything, you can’t have tired of everything. Something to come back for, something to save for next time, when you’ve got more money, some savings to play with, and hopefully better luck.
There’s a premium on everything, and nothing is free. Not even luck. Luck costs money. Luck for a buck? Maybe the stars are free, but good luck seeing them through the neon broil. Maybe it’s time for a drink. Maybe it’s time to skim some winnings, to cash out, to double down, to parlay, to bet the house, to count some cards.
Good place to come for a birthday. One you don’t want to remember. Just cab doors opening and closing. Croupiers changing shifts, cleansing their hands of the table and all the bad luck that came with it. Cashiers sitting behind bars. Chips in their neat little stacks of hundreds or thousands. The peaks in the distance. The hotels standing and stretching in the hot, dry desert air, the sun not far away.
Gathering chips for their bets, trying to get free drinks, trying to get comped. A generous mix of Filipino, white, some blacks, you name it, a few Koreans, the new wealth Chinese—cabbies called them whales because they were big fish, big betters. Old and older. A bunch of kids crawling around doing god knows what, more likely to get kicked out of the casinos than anyone else because they don’t bet.
Mafia types—Skyball Chibelli and Baba, hoping the croupiers don’t look too close at their money. Cabbies who went to high school here. Eighties music, light shows, five-dollar minimums, champagne bottles, sixes and eights, Manhattans, Coronas, the hot sun, no clouds, bellmen looking for tips, towel boys looking for tips, everyone looking for tips and some people giving them. The whole place like an octopus but with more arms, looking for anyway to get its hands on your money, and when it does—bang! it pops its barb into you like an unexpected sting ray, whether you are an expert or not. Here, no one is an expert. Experts get beat up and know better.
The slots, god the slots. Not the loosest slots in town. Viets and Malays on the Boulevard handing out teasers for the topless shows, trying to get you to take them, slapping the one in their outstretched hand against the stack of hundreds in the other, as if that would work, the ground littered with the things, women with big tits and starred nipples, spread legs and starred crotches, new construction, traffic, foot bridges, hard-to-find package liquor and cigars.
Drinks by the pool, too-warm water, fountains, water climbing the air and falling hard. The Eiffel Tower or what looks like the Eiffel Tower. Somebody asks me, “Have you seen the Eiffel Tower?” And I’m like, “Yeah—in Vegas.” Laughs and someone buys someone else a drink. Boat rides, Chanel and Caesar’s. Hip-hop, pop, men with something to prove, cigarettes burning the air, filling it, the sun, the sun. The sun and bad odds.
Find the table, find a run, split, hit, or forget it. Six on the eight, five on the nine. A rum and a coke. A Cuba Libre. Tits falling out all over the place, on purpose or on not. Old folks in visors sitting on slots, buckets of change, cognac behind glass, RV’s, mini-van taxis, Mexicans selling bottled water out of Coleman coolers for a dollar (actually not a bad deal). Keno at breakfast. Hotels, bureaus, turn-down service, all the conditioner you can run through your hair and facial cleansing bars. Crowds. Indians, Japanese, cock-hatted Trojans, poker tables, books of matches, ashtrays and scratch paper. Telephones and cell phones. Cocktail waitresses, two at a time, handles to pull, come, don’t come. The pass line. The don’t pass line. Always split aces. Pick four. OK: 19, 20, 26, 63.
Two to break even, three to come out ahead. If you don’t hit it this time, you will the next. Definitely. No doubt. Gotta happen sometime. Cheap tables. Hooters and the Barbary Coast. Poker at Luxor. The $20 martini. Bikinis. Who needs drugs, life is strange enough already. OK, give me some drugs. What the hell, we’re in Vegas, right? Air Supply, Pat Benatar, Drew Carey and an improv crew. Jerry Seinfeld at Caesar’s. Shops. Gucci, Armani, piña coladas and some water. Vodka and lemonade, I’ll let you try it. Margaritas. Twenty dollar covers. Signs. This way for this, that way for that. The middle of nowhere. Eight hours to the coast. Five to Reno. Pai Gow, Texas Hold ‘Em. A Bud, in a plastic cup. The Rum Diary. Bacardi Gold. Electronic drapes. Ansel Adams. Rubens. The Guggenheim. Lotion or you’ll fry. Tattoos.
Heels. Flip-flops. Just one more buck. Just one more play. The casinos never close. The room awaits. The moon awaits, big and white up there in the desert sky. The streets most quiet after seven in the morning. Until nine, when dreams of better luck and better looks stir the place into a frenzy of ATMs and frappucino. Pastries. Long lines for breakfast. The sun again. Sweat and smoke. The first drink of the day. The die-hards already rolling. Cameras. No cameras in the casino area. Coffee all day. Excedrin. Short skirts. Your best outfit. A new top. Unbuttoned collar shirts. On line for a taxi. Five max. Six is a limo but two cabs is cheaper. Wind. Sunglasses. Coke if you can get it. Expensive at vending. Hats, bronze bodies. A lake view. A view of the pyramid. Choppers. Bases near by. Southwest Airlines. Interstate 15. Planes land close.
Low nineties, much hotter in the sun. No chance of rain. Lucky to spot some cirrus. Way off bosomy cumulus. Escalators, walk signs. Tourists all, some here more often than others. Cash disappearing down slots, into palms, into slits on tables, into the air, skin getting red, from the heat, from a bad bet. Cubs hats, Yankees hats, a Pujols jersey. Scores on a ticker. Shows, reviews, strippers. Waitresses in hose. Is prostitution legal here or not? Is that just brothels? Nobody knows. Nobody cares. Casino security. An occasional police cruiser.
The customer’s never right anymore. Everyone got rich, and everyone lost. Five dollar table, where are you? Treasure Island? Wynn’s? Flamingo? Barbary Coast. He says, “I’ll bet they call each other up on the phone and say, ‘We’re going to ten tonight.’ ‘OK, ten.’” The Luxor, the pyramid. A big Sphinx in front of it. Or a pharaoh. One of the more interesting buildings. OK, sun, we’ll get up already. The sunlight comes into the room early. Unless it was light when you went to sleep. Passed out. Late sunsets here. Hot. Bottled water. Three dollar cokes. Privacy please. Please? I’m not gonna play I just wanna look at the tables. Wait until tomorrow afternoon. The minimums’ll be back down to five bucks. It’s a match-book town. Open it up and strike hard.
Lots of people smoke. The foreigners especially. Mandarin language TV in the hotels. Not just one channel but four. Here comes China, the whale, the big fish, the high roller, cash in your Remnimbis. They go far here. Farther than the dollar. Finding a good place to take a piss. Walking almost everywhere. Dealing with heartburn. Dealing with losses. Looking for breakfast, skipping lunch. You gotta grind it out. A quarter, a quarter, a quarter. These video machines will take all your money if you play them like you would a dealer. Goddam housekeeping. They’ll knock on your door even when you’ve got the privacy sign hanging on the doorknob. They want you out of the rooms. That’s why you don’t get coffee in the rooms or a newspaper at the foot of the door in the morning. That’s why the casino is between the guest elevators and the lobby. I’ll just stop and play one game. The place is a show. We’re all here for the same reason and everyone’s on exhibit. The casinos never close. There’s no way to kick people out.
One guy wins five hundred bucks and all he wants to do is rub it in someone else’s face before he pisses it away somewhere else. But you don’t come here to save money. You spend what you make. You reinvest in the city, in the shimmering town and its gay microcosms. Its music contumely, sung by Fat Elvis, down in the ghetto. He asks the crowd if anyone knows who wrote that song and one guy actually knows. Mac Davis. Fat Elvis tries to get the guy to come on-stage, but the guy refuses, shaking his hand at the wrist, saying no thanks. He got a Coast Casinos coozie anyway. Nothing is free here? That’s not entirely right. The sights are free. The freaks, the diversity, the congestion. It’s a smoker’s paradise. You can smoke anywhere. The tables, the restaurants, the pool, most rooms. Nothing like a big puff to inflate your next bet. There’s ashtrays everywhere, stuffed with the thin remembrance of what used to be in your wallet. This city and its tarred lungs: living fossils of the Tobacco Age.
Everything is a commodity. It’s like you’re on an airplane. Everything costs more. It’s up to you to figure out why. The people who can’t find a reason don’t come back, they spend their money more slowly elsewhere. The tropics or Europe. Maybe just at home, dealing themselves blackjack at the kitchen table, sipping the local beer, lookin for twenty-one. They like blackjack now more than they used to. They’re getting better at it, they sense. Winning some hands amongst friends. Who knows. Maybe they’ll go back to Vegas after all. At least play the machines. Slots, blackjack, poker. Sure, the odds are terrible. But it’s kinda fun, isn’t it?
Every once in a while someone makes money and all the other players are looking over their shoulders, wondering what they did wrong, cursing their luck. They went to the wrong machine, they got a bad table, the dealer’s a grouch. They curse Elton John and Billy Joel who come at them incessantly from the loudspeakers. They’re not standing anymore. Balls to the wall. All or nothing. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This place won’t take me alive. Either the machine or me will be left standing but not the both of us. Hit, hit, hit!
The machine’s got all my bills. All I got for twenty bucks is sixty plays—thirty busts, twenty wins, and ten pushes. Three Buds for a $1 tip apiece. Roll those into the cost of playing and you didn’t do so bad. Not when a Bud is $6 at the bar, $7 with tip. Actually, if you’re gonna drink you might as well sit down at a 20¢ machine and try to grind it out. Drink a couple Buds an hour, provide generous tips, a couple bucks a beer. What the hell.
If it weren’t for the goddam table masters—the white guys in suits with hair-sprayed hair and freckles on their hands, arms, faces—we’d all be making more money at the tables. Shooter gets on a roll and then surer than hell some dispute develops and the suits are always jawing, and always right, pointing at something on the table, saying, “No, you didn’t. No you didn’t.” And then, voila, shooter rolls a seven and if you laid odds you laid an egg. Things here are a sham. The slots, the videos. The stories. Tiffany’s wants $3k for dark pearl earrings. They’ll get it. Someone’ll give it to ‘em. Not me. Not anyone I know. There’s ladders all around here but the rungs are greased.
It seems like I should make some money eventually. Just get a taste, a sneak peak. But that hasn’t happened yet. I haven’t stayed out late enough, haven’t slugged enough booze, haven’t gathered enough chips, haven’t stood in a long-enough line. Haven’t established myself as a VIP. There’s a whole back-room, back-stage side to this place that I haven’t seen, won’t ever see. Then there’s another back-room behind that, the Super VIP Lounge. Then there’s another back-room to that, then another. Then, finally, you’re meeting people. Judges, athletes, senators’ sons. Foreigners with no accent, poker kings, OPEC members. Hedge fund managers and their girlfriends. Everything’s free in the backest of the back rooms. People there work only for tips. Spit on old scotch, abhor the scent of mediocrity. Yet, everyone’s still hiding something. Not in their wallet, but in their belly. They’ll take it to the grave.
Or write it in their memoirs if they ever get hard up.