I had my best trip back to Las Vegas so far while being in the Navy. I really can't say how much it meant to me to see people I've passed up the last few trips out. The girl I've wanted since my sophomore year in high school looked into my eyes and didn't blink. I also reunited with an old best friend, Angela, who became rather estranged after several years without contact. Danielle, Angela, Angela's Friend Crystal, and I stayed up one night drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking about life for 5 or 6 hours at Angela's dining room table in one turned out to be the best 24 hour period of my two week trip.
This is in story form, but believe me, there’s no story here worth reading. I’m just practicing my writing in story form. Anyways, like I said..pretty boring. Keep reading if you care. The night through my eyes (the quotes are almost definitely not correct, but they convey what happened and what was said with a reasonable amount of accuracy):
Danielle and I walked through the parking lot laughing, tripping each other, and haphazardly tossing our arms around each others waists pulling our bodies as close as our clothes would allow. I kept looking at her eyes as the neon lights from the Jokers Wild Casino reflected from them, in awe of their depth and how they could seem fog-filled while she gazed off into the night and suddenly become as crisp as a fresh sheet of college ruled writing paper when her gaze fell on my own. It was a short walk that stretched on in my head as my mind fumbled with the precious moments which slipped through my grasp like grains of sand through a clenched fist. We rolled up to the casino’s front door still laughing at our own happiness when I stopped her with a gentle hand placed on her stomach. I leaned over, moving my hand to the small of her back, and kissed her cheek, her neck, and opened the door so we could meet Angela as she got off of work from the buffet.
Angela, who I hadn’t seen for nearly two and a half years, stood with her back to the both of us as we walked noisily through the casino. She had always been my best friend back in high school, someone I could count on to keep secrets and someone whose house I could run away to when my own home life turned to shit. As the years went on my visits to her house became very common and to the point where her mom would set aside chores for me to do and would also set aside the guest room for me and me alone. We would write little poems with each other, talk about writing a ’zine with a group of friends that would never come to be, and we would stay up late at night, cigarettes burning low, coffee pots depleted, and talk about what the world should be like and what it would be like if we were in charge. She was everything anyone could ever hope to have in a friend and maybe if I had realized that at the time I would have more memories of us together. She stood by my side through thick and thin until I betrayed her in front of, and for, my now ex-girlfriend.
“Oh my God!,” I said, “Come here!” I wrapped her in my arms. “It’s so good to see you again.”
She smiled, “Hey, kid.” She always had a way of downplaying emotional situations. At least, I’ve always thought so. “Let’s go sit in the café until Crystal gets here.”
Cigarettes burned as low as the coffee cups once again as Angela sat across the booth from both Danielle and I, but affectionately close to Crystal, her new best friend. Angela’s attention was focused on the sheet of paper on the table, her tongue was resting outside of her mouth as she concentrated. I put my arm around Danielle and rested my head on her shoulder as smoke curled out of both my mouth and nostrils.
Suddenly, Angela looked up with an evil smile on her face, “I’ve got it!”. She slammed down her gel pen. “John Rhys-Davis was in The Lord of the Rings with Elijah Woods. Elijah Woods played in that one movie with Wynonna Ryder. Wynonna Ryder played in Edward Scissor Hands with Johnny Depp. That’s three moves, I win.”
There was silence at the table.
“First of all,” I said, “ You can’t say ‘was in that one movie’, you have to name the movie. Secondly, I can beat that.” I smiled and waited. It was a rare thing to beat Angela in this game. I could see a scowl forming on her face. She waited quietly for me to make a mistake she could correct.
“John Rhys-Davies played in The Lord of the Rings with Orlando Bloom. Orlando Bloom was in Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp. Two moves.” I took a slow, proud drag on my cigarette.
“Fuck you, that was good.”
“Yeah, I know.”
We were out of cigarettes, out of coffee, the waiter thought I was joking when I ordered a margarita and by the time I realized he wasn’t bringing it, I didn’t care anymore. It was time to go bowling. Danielle and I wanted to go to the Gold Coast Casino because they had a live DJ and you could request any song you wanted. Angela with seemingly endless veto power opted for Terrible’s Casino. “It’s a dump,” she said “but the people are nice.”
It was one in the morning and I wanted nothing more than to order ten Jack and Cokes and bowl like the expert bowler I knew I was. Jack and Coke in hand, I sauntered down to lane 15 and put on the bowling shoes I knew I would be stealing by the time the night was through. I found my pitch black, 15 pound ball and stepped up to the little triangles on the wood paneled bowling lane. I bent slightly at the waist and stepped forward. With a pimp-gangster limp, I bent my right knee and let my weight flow in a fluid sweep from the left side to the right side of the lane. Bringing my right hand from underneath the ball like a 15 year old in a stolen car being chased by the cops, I sent the ball spinning from my hand. The loud smack of bowling ball plastic against oily wood resounded in the bowling hall. As the ball drifted towards the gutter the left-hand spin finally overtook the balls straight course and arced back towards the right side of the head pin.
“The people are so fucked up,” said Danielle, her feet up on the chair next to the one she sat on, her head was in my lap, “I mean, it’s all manipulations anymore. There is no reason to even hope for happiness. We live in a fake city with fake people. We have no heart anyways. In fact, we never did have heart. As a society, I mean.” We had all filed back to Angela’s house in our three car caravan.
“You know,” I said, smoke emphasizing each syllable as I spoke, “There isn’t really any reason to believe that. Show me any place in this world where people aren’t using other people and throwing them to the side. We have no reason to expect our town to be any different. I think that out of all the places I’ve been Las Vegas has some of the most open-minded people. Besides, I was raised here, and I rock.” Whenever I put myself on a pedestal with meaningless self-praise Danielle would grab the inside of my thigh and squeeze it hard but not unpleasantly. I was enjoying my neo-Pavlov’s dog experiment. “Crystal,” I said, “ What do you think of all of this? You’ve lived her as long as the rest of us.”
She sighed and lifted her cigarette as if to take a drag but paused with it halfway up to her lips and looked at the burning cherry. She snubbed it out in the ash tray instead. “I think people are wrong everywhere you go, too. There is no central hub of pure ideas anymore. There is no shiny crystal city defecating peace and harmony into the world. We live in a pile of shit amid many other piles of shit. This one stinks, but no more or less than any other.” With that said she went to the bathroom. Her cigarette, not quite extinguished, smoked lazily from the cigarette graveyard.
“She’s pleasant,” I said.
Crystal had dated my friend Matt for awhile back in high school but outside of that I hadn’t ever really talked to her. She was sharp and intelligent and you could tell that just beyond your vision of her eyes there was machinery moving and it didn’t stop for anyone. I’ve often noticed that intelligent people examine their lives like a detective in a crime scene, looking for hints and clues as to how it all went wrong. I think to be intelligent is to be sad by definition. A true deep thinker will look around and appreciate peoples motivations and this wont be a good thing until our society learns to look inward as well as outward for happiness. I could tell Crystal had been looking around for truth and meaning by the way she didn’t animate her facial expressions when she talked. She ended every deadpan comment or argument with a surreptitious eye movement and a slow exhalation of cigarette smoke. She had my respect from the moment I began talking to her.
The toilet flushed and Crystal emerged looking, if nothing else, relieved.
“Everything come out okay?” I asked. She let slip a rare laugh. After sitting down with a fresh cup of coffee and a cigarette she picked up where she left off. “People let you down,” she said.
“Maybe you’ve been hanging around the wrong people, “ I said, perhaps too curtly. Too much self-pity can get old after awhile. “Have any of us ever left you down?”
“No, but I barely know you and I don’t know Danielle at all, whose to say what you could do if given the chance.” Danielle had cuddled up to me on my chair and had rested her face on my chest, her body radiated warmth through me. At the mention of her name she lifted her face, smiled, and asked if anyone wanted a cigarette. She hadn’t been listening to the conversation at all and for some reason that reassured me. I took her cigarette and kissed her forehead.
As Crystal and Angela talked about the depravity of humanity, I paused to think about the last few years of my life in the Navy. I saw a younger me reflected in these girls eyes and attitudes that made me worry for them because that younger me wasn’t a happy kid. I pictured a version of myself dressed in black injecting my new outlook on life into their aura, curing them forever of sadness and longing, with a nod of my head and a clenching of my eyes. I realized that I had actually closed my eyes and after opening them noticed that nothing had changed in their topic of conversation. Oh well. I lit my cigarette. “Some things never change,” I thought.
The four of us sat around the table in the thick fog of cigarette smoke that seemed to bend the light of the chandelier into a haze as if we were looking at streetlights through a car window on a rainy night. Talk had slowed down as the night pressed on us from 6 sides. Although the room had gotten quiet it hadn’t degraded into an uncomfortable silence but instead had evolved into a level of mutual shared comfort and relaxation for us. The realization that the four of us, reunited after so long, had slipped into an old familiarity was a comfort that we draped over our shoulders like grandmas musty, old patchwork quilt. Danielle’s head had slipped down to rest on my lap but she wasn’t asleep. Her shiny eyes looked up and watched every movement of my face as I drank, smoked, smiled, and laughed. She reached up and grabbed the back of my head and bent it towards her face as far as it would go and told me to follow her to the couch.
Angela heard and smiled saying, “Yeah, I think my boyfriend needs a fuck, too.” I laughed as she trounced up the stairs.
“Yeah, goodnight,” said Crystal. Danielle and I gave her a hug and promised to give her a call the next time we went out. Crystal slipped me her address and told me to write her when I went back to the Navy. I told her I would and hugged her again.
Danielle followed me to the couch and laid down in front of me. We spooned as best we could on a small cloth couch and enjoyed our closeness. My hand stroked her stomach under her shirt, and I kissed the back of her neck. She let out an excited giggle and pressed her butt into my crotch.
I laughed, “Not yet, you know I do want to talk to you by yourself sometime. We’ve been surrounded by people all night.”
“What do I look like, a talker?” she asked.
“You look like a lot of things, I don’t know if a talker is on the list but I think I’ll try to teach you tonight.”
“Oh fine, we’ll see.”
“Did you miss me while I was gone, you know I thought of you a lot.”
“Yeah,” her voice dropped an octave, “You know, I cried when I heard you were engaged. It wasn‘t very nice to go and forget about me like that. We always wanted each other in high school, I always thought we‘d just end up together some day.”
“You were always dating that fuckwad, umm, what was his nam-”
“Yeah, Peter. You were always dating him and I didn’t think you liked to me until we talked online that night.”
She laughed, “Yeah, and you know what? I saved that instant message and Peter ended up reading it. He got so jealous. He hated you.”
“Good! You know, when I saw you with him I wanted to walk over and punch him in his face. I can’t believe you stayed with him after he tried to cheat on you. He was so retarded he didn’t even know how to follow through. And to think, you trusted him over me when I told you what he tried to do. I got so angry.”
“You got angry. I was the one who was cheated on.”
“Yeah, I guess. You know that other night when we had sex and then I turned on the lights when you were lying on my sisters bed naked? Of course you remember…I was amazing. Anyways, I couldn’t help but notice that you have the best ass I’ve ever seen. Your butt cheeks look like a pair of albino cherries sitting on a field of whipped cream.”
“Oh my god,” She laughed. “That was the cheesiest thing I‘ve ever heard. But, I liked it anyways,” she said as she unbuttoned the zipper on my Dickies.
“Thank you,” I said as I pulled her on top of me.
We woke up sleeping in a position that could have impressed Vegas contortionists. Like I said, it was a small couch.
“Danielle, wake up.”
“No, its early.”
“Its 11 am.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“You know I missed my plane back to Virginia.”
“Hmm. You had a better time her than on a plane, right?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Then quit bitching and go back to sleep. No, no, no. Put your hand back down my pants and pull me closer to you. Good. Goodnight, honey. You’re mine for today.”
I didn’t have time to respond before she was sleeping again.