by Matt

You can read it here or download the longer, not necessarily better, PDF version to enjoy while you're sitting on the john, or to annoy your spouse with.

Part 6 of 6 - Ending, Horribly
Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4
|| Part 5

Night - Friday, January 28, 2011

Skinny bowl-cut rolled an eleven and the two men went into fits of joy, slapping at each other, giggling and doing a dance. "Hot limbs!" they shouted again as the dealer pushed chips to the one who had bet. He threw one back out and yelled "Hot limbs" again. I yelled "hot limbs!" again too. It was fun to say, and like other craps jargon, saying it made me feel like I knew what I was doing.

It wasn't until Skinny bowl-cut hit his third eleven and I had drunk two Heinekens that I figured out that the call was not for "Hot limbs" but for a "Hot eleven." It's just that the guys yelling it were slurring from booze.

I didn't care; "Hot limbs" sounded better. And the other two players didn't mind me shouting it as long as they were winning money. In fact, the others who had watched my friends and me suspiciously, now accepted us and understood we were cheap bastards trying to shoot dice and get our drink on. A winning craps table is the fairest place in the world. Color, race, religion and sexuality are irrelevant as long as everyone's winning. When people lose, though, it's a horrible place.

The Western is where I get "Girl Drink Drunk". I was served the most toxic, least apple-like appletini ever. It was the color of infected urine, tasted like burnt tires and compelled me to assure the waitress I was not gay. I even pulled out a photo of my wife and son. Then I had another.

Another one of the absolutely charming performers on Fremont Street.
Click pic to see bigger image

Eventually, Skinny bowl-cut sevened out and the dice passed to his friend, Fat bowl-cut. The table stayed warm. So did my head as I finished my fourth drink. With every drink, I felt younger and funnier. I came out of my shell, engaging the other players in conversation. I yelled "Hot limbs" whenever I damn well pleased.

I couldn't stomach another appletini, so I asked the waitress what the girliest drink they had was. She didn't flinch; Western workers want to know as little about their customers as they have to. She put her finger to her chin, thought for a moment and answered, "Sex on the Beach." That did sound girly, even if it was a concept I wasn't opposed to.

Sex on the Beach was sticky sweet, but did what a good cocktail should. My skin felt flush and my mouth sped up. "Hot Limbs! Hot limbs!" I hollered at the table, at my shoes, at a cop car driving by. Because we were making money, and because The Hoodlum was nowhere to be seen, I was alive. I hollered to Fat bowl-cut to hit the point.

"Man, why do you call him that?" asked one, his fist now full of dollar chips.

"Well, look at him."

"He's not bowl-cut," he said, shaking his head. "He's Family Guy."

He was right. Fat bowl-cut had an uncanny resemblance to the father on that cartoon. Same bad hair, protruding chin and glasses.

"And the guy next to him," my neighbor continued, referring to Family Guy's friend. "That's Paul Lynde." He nailed it again.

I laughed out loud and high-fived my tablemates. I had a belly full of hooch. I had chips in front of me. I was surrounded by friends, new and old. I was alive. The arthritis was gone, my thinning hair felt thicker. I was more handsome and charming than I had been in a long time. Las Vegas' magic was working.

Just when the party peaked, the pit supervisor called "Last shooter!"

We cashed out our small wins and left in search of the next party. We stopped at the taco truck in the parking lot across the street. It was probably a bad sign that the cashier was making out with her boyfriend, who had his hands down her pants. But, as long as he wasn't also the chef, no harm no foul.

Robert, Jeff and I ordered pork tacos for a buck-fifty apiece. To my relief, the lovers stayed put while another fellow got to work in the back of the truck. The rest of our friends waited with us in the cold January night for about five minutes. We recounted the game we had just played and exchanged stories about the nutjobs surrounding us. Phil was unusually vibrant and lucid, repeating the conversations around him verbatim.

The tacos proved to be worth the wait. They were cubed pork on small, soft corn tortillas, covered in onions, cilantro and a creamy hot sauce. They were as good as the flashy tapas earlier in the evening. It wasn't just the booze that made me think so, either. It was the booze, the euphoria of winning and, partially, that they were very good.

The temperature was in the 40s. The air was crisp as we walked back to the populated part of downtown. Being Friday night, Fremont Street was lousy with tourists and local bums out to fleece them. Because begging is forbidden under the big light canopy, the homeless put on the shabbiest, dirtiest costumes they can assemble and pretend to be entertainers. The racket is that instead of handouts, they demand visitors to pay to have a picture taken with them. In front of Fitzgerald's we saw a man wearing a matted gorilla outfit without mask, riding in a wheelchair and smoking a cigarette. He hissed at us for sneaking a photo without paying. Farther on was "Yoda," made of a cheap Halloween mask and a grungy bathrobe. Near the Four Queens, Spongebob Squarepants had been made from a large cardboard box and some yellow spraypaint. We also saw several bums attempting to look like Elvis two months after he died. A very fat woman had painted her body gold and was inchworming her way down the street toward the Plaza.

The beautiful Western invites you with its warmth.
Click pic to see bigger image

Tourists loved the bums' costumes, either because they were too drunk to realize the crappiness or because they were so drunk the crappiness delighted them. Either way, drunkenness ruled as men and women holding football-shaped jars or beer and giant neon-colored margarita glasses zig-zagged under the zip line. The booze made some romantic, as a couple necked while leaning against the kiosk that sells hermit crabs, and heavily petted by the oxygen bar. It made others belligerent as husbands and wives shouted at each other, and strangers had to be separated by their friends who moved slowly so as not to spill their cocktails, and because they were also pushing strollers with sleeping babies in them.

Fremont Street was a true sea of humanity, with a current of vomit running through it. The only thing everyone had in common was the desire for a good time. I was warm from the drinking and the taco. It wasn't even midnight and I was invincible, very funny and ready for anything. After two nights away from the heart of Vegas ruined by The Hoodlum, I was finally free.

We made our way through the crowd to the (Las) Vegas Club and its "fetish" blackjack pit. It's not really for fetishists. If it were, the dealers would be pregnant she-males and they'd let me wear nothing but a diaper. They won't; I asked. The pit's four tables are dealt by attractive women dressed as the most predictable of male fantasies: policewomen, schoolgirls and cheerleaders. They occasionally stop pitching cards to poledance to hip-hop.

The blackjack is lousy 6:5 but often only five dollars. The dealers are good at laughing at our stupid jokes and convincing us we're still amusing. It is a skill I wish all young women had. I understand how easy it is to ignore reality and believe that a dancer, waitress or dealer thinks I'm special, that she can't guess my age. In Vegas anyone can pay for that fantasy.

Except my friends and I are cheap bastards. We only pay for discounted fantasies, and then only if the odds are good. Nothing in the Fetish Pit was less than ten bucks, so we left and took our business off Fremont to the Gold Spike and its three underused tables of three-dollar "Sexy" blackjack with 3:2 rules. It's not really sexy. They dress like skanks, though. And while the hotel has cleaned up since its dingy past, it still feels looser, less regulated, more like something unexpected will happen.

We sat down at a table with a one-handed regular. When he first waved the stump over his cards to indicate a stand I didn't notice the missing appendage. I thought I saw a blur because I was drunk. He stayed planted at third base all night, quiet and serious about his three-dollar blackjack.

The former cocktail waitress at the Spike was a good sport. I once told her to bring me the most disgusting drink a gambler had asked for that day. She returned with brandy and milk. It was awful. When Steve and I asked for the girliest drink she knew, she brought back a Blowjob, a kahlua concoction with a thick head of whipped cream. When asked for the manliest drink, we got Black and Blue: a combination of Guinness and Blue Moon beers.

The new cocktail waitress, who was also one of the "sexy" blackjack dealers, was indifferent to our silliness. She rolled her eyes at the added workload when asked for the most disgusting drink. She didn't take this job to have to think. Her disinterest would have killed my buzz if only our dealer hadn't brought up her love for anal sex as she asked Phil to cut the deck. She called herself "Sandy", but that wasn't her real name. She was short, wore a bikini top, and still had baby fat. She acted like she was listening to us, but she wasn't.

Sandy had a routine of cheap double entendres, the kind found on coffee mugs in the Spencer's Gifts adult section. She liked it up the butt, she liked it when you "stuck it in really deep", ostensibly referring to the cut card. I needed more booze before I found her charming, and probably some peyote before I'd believe she didn't use these lines on every male player.

If she hoped to generate big tips, she had the wrong players. We'd tip a couple bucks every few hands, but even the filthiest lip-licking wouldn't convince us to part with a red chip. Every time she shuffled, Phil stood up, walked behind her and looked at her ass. She pretended to like it.

The cocktail service wasn't fun but it was efficient. I was buzzed enough to make mistakes in basic strategy. But this was a night where mistakes were rewarded. I stood on sixteen against the dealer's ten and she busted. I forgot to split eights and was dealt a five. Stevie did even better. His twenty dollars swelled to almost a hundred bucks, won three bucks at a time. Phil did horribly, losing no matter how perfectly he played. Sandy droned on about foreplay, threesomes and dildos. We told jokes to each other and the one-handed guy.

Eventually, the dirty dealer rotated to an empty table and "Charisse" took the reins. She was prettier, taller, leaner, smarter and, best of all, meaner. Phil likes that. She wasn't a bullshit artist. She had no routine, just fast hands and wise ass comments. Her efficiency was appreciated only because we were winning. A speedy dealer sucks when we're losing.

It was one a.m. The bar crowd had emptied out. Ours was the only full blackjack table. The Gold Spike would only have the tables open two more hours. Now that I had a good buzz, was among my friends, laughing and winning, I didn't want the evening to end. None of us did. We played and made more mistakes. I ordered an appletini for Steve and he ordered something equally awful for me. We drank them and laughed some more. Charisse slapped Phil's hands when he got out of line. He liked that very much.

My winning turned to losing, but I didn't care. I was up so much for the trip and having so much fun. I was down about thirty bucks when the floor supervisor announced the tables were closing. I didn't have enough left in front of me to color up so I waited for my friends' stacks to be converted to red and green.

The little hand was on the three, but we still weren't ready for bed. We hit Fremont Street in search of a coffee shop for late night pie and conversation. It had become empty and dark. The tourists and the costumed characters were asleep. The kiosks were closed and the zip line was empty. A few security guards on bicycles pedaled up and down. A drunk woman held up by two men staggered toward the Golden Nugget. A bum snored rested against a trashcan. The security gates were down in front of the gift shops.

We tried to add up our winnings over the weekends in our head but the alcohol and late hour clouded the arithmetic. We laughed at the repeating digital image on the Glitter Gulch strip club of a woman losing her top, only to have her breasts obscured by the word "Gadzook!"

I tried to ignore it, but I felt tiredness behind my eyes. All the alcohol and the late hour were taking their toll. I told myself I just needed a graveyard ham and eggs to perk me up. After all, I was in Las Vegas and I was winning. I was with my best friends and we were doing exactly the same things we had done for over twenty years. We had conquered age and were in control. We were on top of the world.

The Hoodlum walked out of Mermaids. He wore blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a leather jacket. His hair was slicked back with grease, either from a car or a can. He ate a deep-fried Twinkie, a dab of the cream filling hung from his chin. I stopped.

"Hey!" he shouted. "Come here."

"Go, go go!" I ordered my friends. "Just ignore him. Pretend he's not there."

I sped up, angling to the far side of Fremont Street. My friends hurried, trying to keep up. But in an instant, The Hoodlum was there, standing in front of me, jabbing the stick from his Twinkie into my chest.

I thought I had avoided him. Yet, here he was, just like the boxman said. I realized that he, or some other young person, would always be there, as a reminder of what was long gone for me, of all the squandered opportunities. My heart raced, my breath shortened and my hands were ice cold. I was a good foot taller than The Hoodlum, but standing face to face, he was larger than me.

"We don't want any trouble." My voice wavered. My friends stood behind me, not in support, but at a safe distance so any blood wouldn't splatter their clothes.

The Hoodlum swallowed the last half of his Twinkie and chewed with his mouth open. He looked me up and down and sneered.

"Do you want another?" I asked. I fumbled for my wallet. "Let me buy you one just to show no hard feelings."

He slapped the wallet from my hand. My credit cards spilled onto Fremont Street. I pleaded with him, "We're leaving tomorrow morning. Please don't kill me. Please, don't."

He clenched his fists.

"He's going to," said Phil.

"Looks like it," added Mike.

I closed my eyes. They say that when a man accepts death he becomes peaceful. They say a dying man no longer fears the end. That's horsecrap. I had never been so afraid in all my life, not even the time I was attacked by a lesbian softball team. Every part of my body wanted to go in a different direction. Sweat trickled down the insides of my arms. My toes curled in my shoes.

The Hoodlum wiped his mouth with his filthy hand and said, "Your time has passed, old man. You need to go home."

He reached down, picked up my wallet and took out two dollars. He threw the wallet at me and then walked back to Mermaids.

I collapsed on the street. My friends said I was out for five minutes. I was exhausted, tired from the booze and the late hours. I had pushed myself too hard all weekend trying to capture something that was no longer within my reach. I no longer knew why I was there. I felt lost.

My friends went to Dupar's Coffee Shop in the Golden Gate, but I didn't join them. I returned to the El Cortez. I put ten dollars into a Cougar-Licious slot machine and waited for the ladies to reveal themselves

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