I'm hungry, so I toss my duffel bag on the bed and head out onto Virginia Street. My goal is to wander down to the Nugget for the "Awful Awful," a hamburger packed with so much hot grease the government has deemed it a lethal weapon. The burger sits on a bed of crispy fries and you eat the whole sloppy mess in the cramped diner at the back of the slot joint. The cooks grill up the Awful Awfuls as fast as they can, and the cramped little room is hot from steam and the bodies jammed together. It's perfect for a cold night like tonight. But, I am lured into the Eldorado by the feminine wiles of the blinking pink neon. The casino buzzes, the tables are crowded and there are mirrors everywhere that disorient me. I wander around, scanning for a cheap game among their tables, but it's all five bucks or more.

At one table, a crowd hovers at a respectable distance from the lone player. An elderly man with a bad toupee sits at third base holding a four-inch thick stack of bills in his hands. He peels off a wad and hands them to the dealer who hands him a stack of purple chips. You'd think purple would be worth something between the blue dollar chips and red five-dollar chips since blue and red make purple. But no, they're worth 500 bones. That's a lot, easily enough to pay for the Chevy small-block I have on layaway at Checker Auto. The man then puts out two chips, get tens and splits them.

The ugly old man is wealthy, and yet he's an idiot. I am poor, and I am not an idiot. Nothing could better illustrate that life is unfair. And I feel like evening things up.I bet any guy stupid enough to split tens is stupid enough to think a five dollar bettor at his table took his cards and screwed up his hand. I push through the crowd and sit down at the table.

The dealer gives me a dirty look as I throw twenty bucks down. As soon as the money hits the table, the pit boss is all over me. No cards are dealt and the half-dozen people watching are silent. They fall into two categories: decent people rooting for David, and jerks rooting for Goliath with the loose hairpiece.

"This game is reserved," the pit boss says, in that polite voice people reserve for people who might be dangerous.

"Says who?"


"And if you jumped off a bridge, would I have to follow?"

My logic dazes him momentarily and his eyes go glassy. Finally, he answers, "You need to leave this table." He didn't even answer my question!

"What, my money's not good enough for you?"


I nod coldly, recognizing the pattern of abuse I have been subjected to my entire life, that of not having enough money to do what I want, which is to upset rich people. "I get it. It's all about money, isn't it?"

Angrily, I get up from the table and scoop my twenty bucks as noisily as anyone can pick up a bill. I press it to my mouth and lick it from top to bottom. It tastes inky and dirty, but I am hungry so I lick it a little extra. Then, as everyone watches, I stuff it in the pit boss's shirt pocket. "Here's a little something for your precious time," I snarl and then strut away. The people behind me stare like I'm a nut.

I make it half way across the casino before I'm sure I made my point and turn around. Johnny Deep Pocket's table has returned to normal, but the pit boss is working hard to assure his rich customer that everything is fine.

When he's not looking, I stick my hand in his pocket and pull out the wet bill. Needless to say, I caught him by surprise.

"I need this twenty," I say before making a beeline for the nearest exit.

Back on Virginia, my empty stomach makes the night feel especially cold. I hunch my shoulders against the wind and bury my hands in my pockets as I walk down the empty street to the next casino, but the chill still cuts to my bones. I need a drink.

I cross the railroad tracks, underneath Fitzgerald's neon rainbow with the burnt out lights. Fitzgerald's looks low-budget because it is. Its entrance is a green gaping mouth, just like an Irishman would have. On the sidewalk, a tall, fat black man in a one-size-fits-all leprechaun suits dances from foot to foot, blows on his hands and passes out funbooks with quite a bit of surliness. I take one without saying anything and enter the casino while he mutters "You're welcome." I use my instincts to guide me to the page for the free cocktail, and then cut across the depressingly dead floor to the bar.

The bartender is young and a bit pretty. She's washing glasses as I sit and set down my coupon and ask for a Manhattan. I use my most charming line to draw her attention, "Go ahead and make it strong because I like to be drunk."

She smiles and I can tell it's a real smile. Her teeth are a mess, but she's still pretty. Short blonde hair, a petite figure and a tiny nose. Not so much the kind of girl you want to take to a deserted cabin where there's nothing to do but have sex, but more like the kind of girl you want to take home to your dad just so you can say, "See, I told you I wasn't a loser." "Kim," her nametag reads.

Kim pours my drink and asks, "Are you on vacation?"

"No," I answer, and I remember not to mention anger management because that usually scares the girls off. "I've got some important meetings tomorrow."

"Oh, what do you do?" She sets the drink in front of me and I take a sip. It's the strongest Manhattan I've ever had, tasting even more like melted tire than most.

"Important stuff."

She nods her head and heads down to the other end of the bar to stock the icebox. I take a solid swig of the overpowering drink and I'm warmer already. Warm and lightheaded. Kim's so pretty. I wonder if my dad would like her. He likes my wife, but if I brought home another classy lady, he'd know my wife wasn't a fluke. I swallow the rest of the drink and call her back to me.

I ask for another Manhattan, "Stronger," I command her. She smiles again and now I think she is gorgeous. My God, is she pretty. I sort of wish I had a giant shoebox I could put her in and take her home. I'd punch holes in it and everything. I want to talk to her and trick her into liking me, not for any indecent reason, but because I like pretty girls to think I am cute.

But I have nothing to say. My hunger is so acute that I'm getting tunnel vision but I can't go to the restaurant. Experience tells me that when I leave a girl alone at a bar, she's never there when I get back. So I'll stay here until Kim loves me, even if it means wetting my pants.

There's no excitement in the casino, just a couple of Canadians in gimme caps at the Three Card Poker table and a pit boss picking his teeth with a matchbook. I want to say something witty to Kim, but I'm drawing a blank.

So I finish my Manhattan and order another, only I try to be clever. As Kim approaches, I open my mouth wide and say "Send in the clowns."


"More booze," I clarify, then add, "You're so pretty."

She gives me that sort of weirded-out look that I am very used to. Rather than make the situation worse by adding, "Touch my hair," I sit quietly and swallow the next Manhattan in two gulps. My tunnel vision has narrowed to a pinpoint and staring at Kim is like spying on her through a telescope. Maybe if I just rest my head.

"You okay?" It's one of the Canadians touching me on the shoulder. A guy can't fall asleep at a bar for a minute without someone bothering him. I don't feel like explaining that I'm fine, so I use hand gestures instead. Then I ask for another drink from Kim. I think she did something with her hair while I was resting. It looks good.

"You've had a lot," Kim protests.

"But it still hurts," I say and then for no reason I begin to cry, not a little but a lot. "It still hurts and I miss people. Why won't they talk to me anymore?"

Kim looks leery, but I know she'll serve me because she's holding a glass. It's sort of hard to see what she's doing, but I know she's trying to water down my drink. Every bartender does it once I start crying. "Don't cheat me, honey."

The drink is set in front of me and I bend over and put my lips to the glass. With what seems like an acceptable amount of slurping, I complete the drink. Good thing, too, because I then fall to the floor.

The security guards are very nice as they escort me out of the casino. One even promises to get Kim's number for me.

"Call me at the hotel," I tell him. He nods and says he'll do that. "Do you know what room I'm in? It's the-" I gesture to its size, "with the brown thing and then you go 'tum-tum-tum-tum.'" The guard promises to call later.

I'm so tired and I'm back on the street. My body is freezing but my head pounds with heat. The Silver Legacy is miles away, it seems. And the lights are so bright. I take a step and it feels terrible. I want to sleep here on the concrete. It looks soft. But I know the bum I can sort of see will pick my pockets. So I take another step, then another, slowly and gingerly, so as not to break anything in my head.

With my head throbbing, and my legs beginning to ache, I finally make my way down the street. All I can think about is the horizontal surface of my bed and the soft pillow.

I want to lie down so badly, which is why I am so surprised to find myself buying 40 dollars worth of chips at the Circus Circus craps game.

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