The Holy Land
I tore the illegal XWeb box off of Tony's entertainment system. He didn't object. I carried it out and tossed it in the dumpster where it would surely be salvaged by a homeless rooter, and sold for a tidy price down on Fremont Street.
Good riddance to it.
Then we both got blind drunk me on beer; Tony on gin and juice. I woke up, poisonously hung over, on the floor where the holo blood had splashed, curled into a fetal position, with my hands in a protective prayer clasp between my legs, shielding my private parts from marauding Tyn girls.
Not that there was such a thing roaming packs of bad-intentioned aliens. That's just what I dreamed.
Low on cash, I spent my two weeks off mostly indoors, holed up with the air conditioning, out of the hundred and twenty-five degree Las Vegas summer up five degree, on average, from when I'd first landed in this Shangri-La a decade back. I drank cheap beer and watched T.V., a regular old forty-eight inch wall-mounted screen in my bedroom. The twenty-four hour news channels had nothing on the Tyn girl amputation give and take Mary's head or the fat guy's prick. But that was to be expected. The press has been know to curl up in the pockets of the powerful and slip into a propaganda mode, and our present guy the third Bush to go there and his corporate ties have serious vested interests in the success of this Tyn/human experiment. And who knows: maybe that big space ship hovering over our desert has a death ray or big fat bomb that could blow us all to Kingdom Come. That's a vested interest if I ever did hear of one.
Hear no evil; speak no evil ...
Two nights before I was supposed to return to the Loaves and Fishes, I decided to slip on down to Fremont Street to pick up some straight scoop.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That's a promo phrase from twenty years back. It's not true anymore, of course. Everything you do or say in this town gets recorded for posterity, everywhere except in the old downtown, Fremont Street, twelve square blocks laid out along the street that gives the place its name; an area that predates the row of opulent resort/casinos we call "The Strip," laid out along a north/south corridor of Las Vegas Boulevard.
The old downtown area had, not so long ago, crumbled into dissolution, home to the homeless and down-and-out crowd that wasn't welcome in the more upscale strip places of the day Caesar's Palace and the Tropicana, the Luxor or Circus Circus. This crumbling ambiance had its appeal to a certain unsavory element, but the powers that be, pushing a "family friendly" atmosphere for the city of Lost Wages some thirty years back, spruced the place up, canopied the ten blocks of Fremont Street with a projection screen where high tech light shows burst forth every night; they installed "misters" to cool the place down, hired entertainment zydeco bands, magicians, stand-up comics to work their crafts from portable stages set up in every intersection, allowed street sales of alcohol and generally encouraged a "free-living" atmosphere that was "family friendly" by the simple allowance of the presence of children on the open street.
And it evolved by-design, due to it popularity into an area of non-monitored free-wheeling lawlessness that, on a small scale, gave the big boys on the strip some serious competition.
I parked in the shuttle lot nestled in the corner of the no-man's land ghetto a mile away from Fremont Street and rode the electro-shuttle bus in. I got off at The Golden Nugget as the desert dusk softened the light under high canopy, and elbowed my way through the throngs, past a street corner Rat Pack Review. The Sinatra of the group was belting out "High Hopes" over the canned accompaniment while Dino and Sammy grinned like naughty boys, pouring themselves bourbon on the rocks from a card table bar behind the singer. Straight in front of the stage two stocky, dolled-up middle-aged gals, drinks in hand, danced with each other. I wanted to put my hands on the brunette's plump hips from behind and start a conga line, but I wanted a drink worse, so I side-stepped a skinny girl in a see-through blouse and her boyfriend's tumbleweed explosion of hair and slipped into the Nugget and headed for the bar and ordered a bottle of Heineken from a Tyn girl bartender.
A Tyn girl bartender? This was a new development. We were told that our ETCOW helpers would be confined to kitchens and clean-up duties, the lowest level of the Las Vegas work force. But here was one behind the bar, with swaths of bright blue make-up over her prominent eyes and green streaks in her snow white hair, in a buttoned-to-the-top white blouse and black bow tie, taking tips and making squeaky small talk over bar-top poker machines.
"You're gawking, Neil," said a voice behind my shoulder.
I turned to find Holly Poretz in a slinky ankle-length black dress, cut up one side all the way to her hip socket. My eyes went up and down the length of her. The fabric was sheer enough to reveal an absence of underclothing. I forgot about the Tyn bartender. Holly understood. "You like?" she said.
"Oh yeah," I replied. Then, gathering myself, I asked, "You wanna sit down, have a beer?"
"No and yes," she said, smiling. "No on the sitting; yes on the beer."
I checked out the length of her again, let my eyes rest for a second on a triangular rough patch on an otherwise smooth topography. She ran her hands down her ribs and over her hips and said, "And I'll buy the beer; you've got a be a little bit short on cash by now, hon." She signaled the bartender over.
The little dronette glided up to us; I didn't know where to put my eyes. The Tyn girl's forthright stare, the gaudy make-up, and the perky shape of her superior breast set straining at the tight blouse gave her the appearance of precocity, like an eleven-year-old human girl dolled up by an ambitious stage mother for a professional dress fashion show. She winked at me. I flinched and turned to Holly, who said, "Brazen little bitch, isn't she?"
I flinched again, at Holly's language this time, and shot a quick glance back at the bartender, who had the ghost of a smirk on her thin-lipped mouth.
"Bring me a Heineken, hon," Holly demanded, the last word dripping acid.
The Tyn girl nodded and slid away.
I said, "I thought ..."
Holly raised a hand to silence me. "Let's take our beers outside, Neil."
Fremont Street was packed. Nearly naked young women &$150; impossibly perfect bikini-clad creatures on projection screen/canopy overhead frolicked in crashing surf, each breaking wave bringing a fresh spray of cooling mist down as they knocked tiny bikini tops askew, eliciting mock squeals of dismay from above, howls of approval from the crowd below. Holly placed a hand on the back of my up-tilted head and pushed my line of sight back down to the horizontal. "You men are such pigs," she observed.
"Yeah, right," I said, nodding at her dress that concealed nothing.
She smiled. "Touché," she said.
"Tooch," I said back at her, poking a finger in her rib. Then: "So, you're out doing a little slumming, huh? Where's Edward?" I wanted to know, meaning her neckless pit boss boyfriend.
She gave my arm a playful punch and said, "He's probably out screwing his blackjack dealer girlfriend," as a Tyn cocktail waitress slithered by us, holding on her shoulder an enormous tray of frosty-mugged draft beers. A shirtless kid with a porcupine spike hair-do and day-glo orange pants stumbled up to her, sloppy drunk, and shoved a twenty her way. She clipped the bill out of his hand with a practiced snap, wrapped it expertly around her fingers with her existing stash, made change that he insisted she keep and let him lift a mug from her tray. He spilled a third of the beer in the process of taking it, then made a crude remark to the girl, concerning what he'd like to do to her in his hotel room, a come-on that would have gotten him slapped or cursed in a normal world, or removed immediately and black-balled permanently from any of the Strip casinos. Instead, the waitress slipped him a business card. The kid grinned triumphantly and said, "Yeah," and stumbled off into the churning crowd, pocketing the prize.
"Jesus," I said.
"Things have changed, Neil," Holly said.
"In two weeks?" I said.
Rumors had flown from the beginning when the Tyn ship appeared, and they picked up the pace when the integration program was announced. They were here to take over, to eliminate our jobs. The corporations were on-board with this cheap labor deal, and wanted to fill the service sector with impossibly cheap workers. Unions reared their heads and rattled their shrinking sabers, and we, the vulnerable, were assured that the Tyn would be moving into only the lowest level jobs, the one that the casinos couldn't fill. Maids, dishwashers, kitchen helpers, janitorial positions.
Nobody believed a word of it. A slow creep was expected, and the next increment in that creep was, of course (we all knew), bartending, waitressing, dealers ...
I grabbed Holly's arm and pulled her to a stop from our aimless ramble. "The tables?" I said.
She met my gaze with a jaded look, sipped her beer and said, "Want to play a little roulette?"
I said that I didn't, but Holly took my hand anyway, and led me through the crowd, across the street toward The Mint, growling, "What are you lookin' at, knucklehead," to a stout bald man who'd had the audacity to give her willowy body the up and down. The man cringed at Holly's question; his wife, cradling a paper bucket full of quarters beneath her breasts, repeated it to him, verbatim; and Holly pulled me into the smoky casino and up to a roulette table where a petite and prim Tyn girl in a white blouse and black vest spun the wheel and scooped up the losing bets.
Holly took the open chair on the end. I stood behind her. She bought two hundred dollars worth of twenty dollar chips, calling the Tyn girl, "Sweetie," in an unfriendly tone of voice in the process. With expert precision, the girl counted and stacked the chips and pushed them Holly's way. "What number do you like, Neil," Holly said, lifting the chips and letting them chink back down on the stack.
"Thirty-two," I said, "for your age."
She cast a sly smile back over her shoulder at me for shaving a decade off her, then slid a hundred dollars onto the number, and another hundred on the "even" box. The Tyn girl dropped the ball onto the wheel. It circled four times then clattered off the apron and into the ring of number slots, bouncing three times before it landed on thirty-two, a minor miracle, a thirty-eight to one shot.
The Tyn girl counted out the winnings and pushed them Holly's way. Holly cashed in and slipped the money into my hand. "This should make up some for the suspension," she said.
"Holly, you don't have to ..." I muttered.
"Shut up, Neil," she said, grabbing my bicep and pressing the sharp nails into my flesh. "If it'll make you feel any better, I'll let you pay for the hotel room."
God bless, I thought as Holly planted a light kiss on my lips God bless Fremont Street, and the slumming ex-girl friends that go there.
Published October 2007