“White diamonds! That’s good.”
Tom and I had seated ourselves at an optically shifting poker table peopled by weirdos.
A cocktail waitress wearing a pencil-thin, Sharpie-applied moustache had provided Tom with a greenish drink he, from his outburst I could tell, was enjoying.
Or maybe he was enjoying the cocktail waitress.
My thinking was getting clumsier and clumsier.
I checked my ankle for my flask, and there it was. Momma’s milk.
I began tugging at the flask, imagining its engraving—DO UNTO OTHERS—but between my wobbly equilibrium and the container’s placement under both sock and pant, I knew I’d have to leave the poker hand to get a taste.
Tom knew what I was going for and indicated the full martini I’d failed to notice sitting lucidly to my right. Moving a quaking hand to the glass’s stem was difficult enough, so when my fingers reached the drink—licking my chops awaiting the sharp, odd taste of vermouthed, clear liquor—I was bummed, seriously bummed to find it wouldn’t move from the table.
I hopped off my chair and played a one-sided game of tug-of-war with the transfixed martini.
Everyone at the table, including the dealer standing there like he owned Morongo, laughed and laughed and laughed.
“Sir, don’t feel bad. We get at least one an hour who falls for the undrinkable drink,” said the jerk dealer.
I stuck a finger in the drink, to find that the metal toothpick ran through rubber olives and into gelatinous trick-liquor.
Foiled, yet again, by strangers.
I wanted to complain to Tom. Convince him that I didn’t have time for pranks. But the table’d already moved onto the next hand.
A rancid man in a faux-turtleneck sweater excitedly shouted “Nuts!” as the mean dealer pulled his hand away from the three cards he’d dealt face-up.
“I’m gonna go find the SS,” I grumbled.
Though I couldn’t remember how or where I’d gotten them, I took my stacks of colored chips and prepared to wobble off in search of a place to plan.
I’ve always done my best work sad and alone. Alone’s a misnomer. Cleo’d wake me up because of the snoring and ask me to sleep on the couch. I’d go sit by the pool and scratch out love letters on a legal pad. Then I’d tear them to bits and shove the strips of journalled sex-affection into the one place I knew she wouldn’t look: the always-clogged pool filter.
This is all before the fireball. Somehow I keep forgetting to mention the fireball. Well, let’s correct that now.
There was a fireball under Morongo.
Anyway, while I abstained from the game I didn’t understand, Tom won a hundred dollars and then lost two in a single hand.
“Buckets!” Tom slammed clenched fists on the table. The dealer’s eyes went from Tom to a team of sunglassed security guards. Tom noticed.
“So it goes,” said Tom, lacing his fingers behind his head and leaning back in his chair like he was catching rays on a chaise lounge in the sand outside Señor Frog’s.
I turned in my chair and looked around to see if I could see the SS. The floor of the casino struck me with bewildering stimuli of sound and light that until then I’d somehow kept my eyes blind to.
I tried to make conversation, but needed to shout as the ching-ching-ching-ching of slot machines and the whoops and howls of winners and losers grew in decibels and number.
“What kind of tuxedo is that?” I shouted into Tom’s ear.
“A rented one. Let’s play a different table,” Tom yelled back, scanning the floor like a hunter tracking a doe through the trees.
“I’m too drunk to play—“ I protested, but Tom had vanished into the crowd.
I wandered the circular casino. Looking for something. Looking for someone. A very particular someone.
The scotch and bourbon and gin and beer had muddled my system, making each thing its doppelganger. This blinking, blaring Casino business. The boxes of burning brilliance imbued in me a sense of alliterative reality. Each object—be that croupier, cheater, vacationer, spinning wheel, green-felted table, red, black, blue, or white chip—resembled the other. I couldn’t discern emotions: anger, despondency, listlessness, frustration, regret, buffet shrimp.
Oh, too much has been said of the sad folk, with their hands permanently poised at the lever to go on about here. But they’re not a sad, blind, flock-like folk. They’re dedicated.
Each slotter I saw through the blare was one of my fat aunts slapping their government pay down a well of chance. Which is also the way they’d married.
I felt like a fire ant drifting along the forest’s floor. A cocktail waiter with massive, Elliot Gould-sized eyebrows, who wore rouge and a red lip, tried persuading me to enter the bingo hall. One of the eyebrows dripped down his face and covered his eye. I thanked him for the invitation and moved on.
In my ambling, I nearly tripped over two obese figure skaters in pink tutus grabbing at a small constellation of unclaimed quarters scattered across the casino’s black and neoned carpet.
At the center of the casino I found a bar. I ordered a beer. I drank the beer and ordered another. I sipped casually while staring at a group of young women wearing black and white balloon hats. On the long table around which they sat were what I estimated to be a hundred full shot glasses of some green liquor.
“Hulk! Hulk! Hulk!” they chanted.
I needed information, but I was in no state to retrieve, cajole, or accept any. The samurai don’t see inebriation as inhibition.
Considering myself a samurai of sorts—and, say, a hard-boiled detective and a civil rights leader and a revolting proletarian—I knew I had to take the horns by the ram.
I remember thinking this: “Take the horns by the ram.” And repeating it as I invaded gamma-ray lady-land.
Toward the balloon-headed I drunkenly stomped, tripping right into Sam and a shortish man in black he was escorting. Serendipity. Coincidence. Both were obstacles. I tried pushing them out of the way while Sam was greeting me, but he, Sam, grabbed my arm with an iron grip and dragged me out of the bar and onto the frenzied floor.
“Come on. We’re going down.”
“Okay, we’re getting what?” I couldn’t really hear him.
“I just said. We’re going down. To the tunnels.”
Tunnels? What tunnels?
Patrick Benjamin is a writer living near Los Angeles. He lives with his sister and grandmother.