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LAS VEGAS THE DESERT
Fuck. I hate myself. Cigarette butts and mini-bottles from the minibar keep company with cocaine residue on the coffee table. I feel guilty. What am I doing with my life? What is life? I want to embrace it, but I’m not sure what it is, and I don’t think I know how. Maybe I’ve been running from it for so long that I’ve forgotten what it looks like. Sub-atomically, even dense matter is, for the most part, empty space. I guess that’s kind of how I feel right now, like empty space. I’m here, but I’m not, like a ghost made of flesh and blood.
I worked last night, if you can call it work. I’m a comedian. I was headlining a small venue at some hotel casino off the strip. I’d mention the name, but what’s the difference? They’re all basically the same. Light reflecting off glittering glass walls, like risqué revue dancers in desert sequin tights, issuing promises they can’t keep. Magnificent marble floors clashing with the sounds of bells and whistles, echoing from the Superman slots and the pai gow poker machines. Brilliant, dazzling, dizzying columns of light bursting into a billion pieces, seducing gamblers like mosquitoes irresistibly drawn to bug zappers. The most expensive free drinks in the world are “given away” here.
LAST NIGHT AT THE SHOW
“Dov Davidoff!” calls out the Playboy Bunny, introducing me to the audience as she recedes behind the red-velvet curtains. Exiting the hallway, I step out onto the stage, bathed in light that both blinds and illuminates. I think, What a strange symbol the Playboy Bunny is. The distant relative of a rodent with large ears and a bow tie has become so synonymous with sexuality that we’ve all just accepted it for what it is. I don’t get it. Was Hugh Hefner sitting around thinking, You know, women are sexy … but I’d really like to fuck a rabbit?
Reading the audience, I can spot the faces of the people for whom “free” table drinks are now a bitter irony. Their eyes are circled with dark rings but wide open like an owl’s. In some cases, they’ve ended up here, at my show, as a consolation prize for having lost money in the casino. The pit boss said, “Here, have two tickets to a comedy show … on us.”
“That’s all?” asks the loser with the heartbroken expression on the face.
The pit boss cracks a counterfeit smile. “Tell you what … you guys like buffets? Here ya go,” he says, handing over two more tickets. “On us.” He winks, smiling like a reticulated python waving goodbye to a rabbit he’ll catch up with tomorrow. In Vegas, “on us” often means you just got fucked.
* * *
Like some kind of living history, these faces tell the story of how Las Vegas came to be an American city—one that’s built on the backs of losers. Did these people really think they’d walk away winners? How the hell do they think these buildings got so high? Beware of shiny towers in the desert.
Their expressions register their night’s reality, like small fish in a big bowl that have just discovered there’s no way out. Depending on the beating these guys took, jokes will never be good enough. These guys are the owners of wallets that ran for office against blackjack tables and roulette wheels and lost by a landslide. Stage left, a bachelorette party celebrates the bride-to-be. Their hair-sprayed heads, covered with plastic penis hats, bobble back and forth to the rhythm of rum.
NEXT DAY: WAKING UP
Back in my room, half-dead, one eye barely open, and with the essence and appearance of a pirate, I look to my left. Little tan nipples atop big fake tits peek out from beneath the down comforter on the king-size bed in my hotel room. Who is this? I wonder, sifting through the last six hours like a miner unsuccessfully panning for gold.
I have no idea who these tits belong to. Is it my feature act? A feature is the person who precedes the headliner at a comedy show, also known as a “middle.” In this case, my feature was an attractive woman, but I don’t think she slept here, or did she? Messy bed hair obscures her face. Like a detective trying to identify a body, I look closer … similar haircut, I think, but her breasts weren’t this big, and she definitely didn’t have large angel wings tattooed on her back. Angel-wing tattoos almost always guarantee that the person wearing them will bear little resemblance to the spiritual being they’re meant to represent.
I wish this were the first time I’d woken up next to a woman I didn’t know, but it’s not. Will I ever be able to sustain a real relationship, or at least one that feels real to me, something life-affirming and connected? Am I really this guy? Aren’t there better guys to be? I want to be better … whatever that means.
Oh, right! I suddenly realize. It’s that wacky hooker from last night. The one who told me that her New Year’s resolution was to “be more healthy by cutting down on sugar.” Not that it’s ever a bad idea to reduce your crystalline carbohydrate intake, but I just hope it occurs to her that she may also want to cut down on the whole “having sex with strangers like me for money” thing first.
* * *
I lost my virginity to a prostitute in Mexico when I was thirteen. It was the first vacation I’d ever been on. My father brought us to a resort in Cancún, where I spent a good part of my first afternoon in the hot tub with my dick pushed up against the powerful jets. Like a large adolescent barnacle making its home under the bow of a sedentary boat, I didn’t move. Several passersby commented on the duration of my visits and my commitment to the tub. My fingers were an eagle’s talons, digging into the concrete lip just above the waterline, and the most powerful jets in the tub were my prey.
“Are you okay in there?” the poolside attendant called over to me, wondering why, for the last half hour, I’d been clutching the concrete like a cracked-out house cat. My response, more physical than verbal, consisted of a series of grunts, accompanied by the very same expression worn by a basset hound rut as it attaches itself to a leg, any leg.
* * *
Below are a couple of paragraphs for context:
I was a chubby kid, and I was ashamed of my body—and of my haircut, and my secondhand clothes, and the dirt driveway in front of my house. The driveway that lay waiting every night, like a panther in the forest, stalking my white sneakers. God knows I tried to keep them clean like the other kids’, but the panther was too powerful, especially after the rain came. At the end of my driveway, separated by twenty feet of road, was another driveway, also dirt, that led to the junkyard I grew up in. More on this later, but felt I needed to provide some context. Context is everything. It’s the difference between self-defense and homicide. I hope context will prevent you from not caring about what I have to say. I hope it will allow for a less judgmental perspective when I behave in ways that I’m embarrassed by. Context is a bit like a character witness addressing a jury, hoping to create a more compassionate understanding of the accused. Context can be the difference between walking free or doing life.
* * *
This is the context in which I clung to those hot tub jets. The ones that made me feel happy. There wasn’t much out there that did, so I developed a romantic alliance with a whirlpool.
* * *
The night we arrived at the hotel in Cancún, after check-in, my father slid me a couple of twenties. Like most formerly poor, uneducated people who beat the odds, he carried cash. He said, “Take this … in case you need it.” He loved me but had a funny way of showing it sometimes. One time he told me, “I thought about having your mother killed … but I’d never do that because of you and your brother.” A pause ensued as he waited for a thank-you or a gesture in acknowledgment of his self-restraint. He was serious. He was funny. He was sad, and he was lonely. I loved him dearly.
BACK AT THE RESORT
Resorts are boring. Even as a kid I’d heard about sex for money in Mexico, and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a rumor, so I headed for the exit near a taxi stand. I hopped in a beat-up blue Checker cab that looked like an old, rusty, friendly little whale with headlights.
“Take me to the place with the ladies,” I said to the driver.
“Mujeres?” he said.
With a look, universally understood by men of all stripes, cultures, and creeds, a look that can only be described as embarrassed, but thirsty, I said, “Girls. Ladies.”
“Ahh, I see!” he said. In the rearview mirror, I saw him flash a toothy grin as he released the clutch, sending us sputtering into the night.
A presumptuous move for a thirteen-year-old, I know, but like all kids who grow up fast, I developed in ways that I shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t be here. I probably shouldn’t even want to be here.
* * *
The taxi ground to a dusty halt. I paid the driver and exited the little blue whale in front of an old building. Its crooked walls and uneven rooflines would be described as dilapidated by American standards, but it wasn’t so bad by Mexican standards. It was the kind of ramshackle operation you’ve seen in countless films about guys with guns who ride horses and wear hard faces. It was dark. It was foreboding. It was right up my alley.
* * *
For me, even at thirteen, pussy had always trumped fear. I’m sure there was an age requirement, but in a place like this, dollars made you any age you needed to be. I stepped through the paint-chipped doors and took a seat at the bar. My anxious but exhilarated legs dangled more than a foot above the greasy floor. There were five people in the room, including me. Two painted ladies of the evening, another gringo patron, and the guy behind the bar, who looked exactly like you’d imagine he would in an establishment whose beverage selection consisted of beer or tequila. I thought about tequila, but I wasn’t that daring. Plus it was already a policy of mine to steer clear of anything with a worm in it. I pointed at a beer and placed a couple of bucks on the bar.
A woman in her late thirties, masked in makeup, approached me with a crooked but sultry smile. She sat on the seat next to mine and shot me a wink before slowly placing her hand on the inside of my upper thigh. “I like this place already,” said the hot flash running up my leg, FedExing messages to parts of me I could feel but not understand.
“Hola,” she said.
I didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t matter to me, or her.
“Ab-re-li-na,” she said, pointing to herself. My shy smile let her know I wanted to talk, but couldn’t. Like clutch ball players, prostitutes perform beautifully in the awkward spaces.
* * *
She calmed me. She wasn’t very attractive, but she was kind of sweet, and kind of soothing, and I’ve never been one to let visual details get in the way of what I want. Her eyelash extensions said, Follow me, so I did. “Israel,” she called over to the mustachioed man with the flinty eyes behind the bar. She mumbled something in Spanish that must have meant “This won’t take long.” It struck me as strange that his name was Israel. I didn’t know you could name a Mexican Israel. I thought, You can be pretty sure you’ll never meet a Jew by the name of Mexico.
* * *
Leaving the main building through the rear door, we walked over to one of several seedy little cabanas with bad lighting and cracked windows. Opening the crooked door, she waved me in. She pulled up her short skirt and lay down on the bed, spreading her legs—fast, but not hurried. Practice makes perfect. Removing a condom from her bra without looking, she beckoned me with her eyes. Cigarette burns dotted the off-white sheet like filthy little stars in a filthy universe. Hunger overcame caution as my slow but deliberate steps carried me to her.
For “twenty dollars American,” she may have changed the course of my life. After snacking on my virginity, she ran cold water over a hand towel and rubbed it on her vagina. The businesslike efficiency with which she wiped herself left an indelible impression on me. From time to time, I still think about how difficult her life must have been.
Copyright © 2017 by Dov Davidoff