I see it in the teeth of the emaciated whores who jut their flesh against the silence of the viscous city night...
I see it in the swarm of headlights flooding through the streets like glazed electric eyes, in the liquid light of morning, in the ghost-town calm of an empty street an hour before dawn,
in the look of stubborn lust on the face of a sixteen-year-old girl waiting for hours on the corner in her new black leather miniskirt and her halter top and her only pair of lace panties, waiting for something, swimming the universal dream.
I see it in the sullen pulse of sex that fills the air like a sacred iridescent flower
and in the living, breathing dirt
and in the crackling of the leaves beneath anonymous feet.
I see it on Fremont street, amongst the palaces of neon and the ghosts of vanished jungle trees, in the echoes of Pleistocene lament, in the tinny ping of quarters as they drop out from the slot machines,
in the melancholy grin on the face of a middle-aged alcoholic who's just spent another night and another twenty dollars melding her mind with the naked world, watching the laws of physics mate with the vivid logic of the reptile.
I see it in the trillions of amoebas circling wildly through our blood vessels, oblivious to our hates, loves, fears and dreams.
I see it in the emptiness inside each and every head, in the emptiness lost but always gained again, and gained but always lost again,
in the impossible crave to leave this and be free,
in the 7-11 signs that shed their pain over every corner,
in the Golden Arches, billions and billions served,
in the evaporating echo of an infant's indecipherable firstscream.
I see it in the patterns of white and yellow lines across the parking lots of the innumerable outdoor shopping malls, in the perfect mindless rhythm of the streetlights, in the sidewalks which no one ever really sees...
in the green plaid pants of the lone pedestrian on a mile-long stretch of highway,
in the soup of dirt, insects and garbage, dying brush and mangled shopping carts that throbs and festers in Flamingo Wash, occasionally foraged in by homeless people and homeless dogs and cats.
I see it in the timeless dance of lust across the face of two sunlit lovers as they stroll past the casino, touching a distant world where there is no neon, where there are no slot machines, where there is no garbage, no Golden Arches, no sullen flowers, no lace panties, no wild streets, but only the perfect laugh, the unencumbered scream, the nameless name.
I see it in the angles of the factory walls, in the ceaseless humming of the truck stops, in the Brooks Brothers suits and fifteen dollar Wrangler jeans,
in the bittersweet tang between a woman's legs as they spread wide in the light of the porous winter moon,
in the sprinkling of notes left behind by a passing car radio as children do flips on a mattress abandoned in the parking lot of a closed-down 7-11, full of mites, mold, fleas and microscopic decomposers,
in the Tropicana swimming pool with its artificial waterfall and the bar and blackjack tables by the edge so you can spend your money even as you feel the depth surround you, feel the oceanic presence, feel the womblike pressure grip you in its soft irrational sense,
in the sleazy motels and the strip joints, the Pussycat lounge with its picture of a cat-woman up in lights, the miniscule pasties on the erotic dancers' breasts, and next-door, in the Indian restaurant, where the skin of the tandoori chickenhas exactly the color of dried blood.
I see it in the delicate Martian gleam of the distant mountains that shape the horizon,
in the formless fugue of the childrens' laughter as they swarm about the jungle-gym and swings, a billion radio waves continually passing through their brains.
When I close my eyes, I see it in the dancing of the green and purple lights across the infinite planetarium of my skull.
I see it in the squawking of the parrots at the pet store, in the logical emotion of the rain-forest that gave them life, in the endless fractal platter of cement that we have sprawled here across the desert,
in the mailboxes, the telephones, the electric wires,
in the subterranean conduits, in the body of a strangled woman found beneath a Winnebago,
in the science of erotic dynamics, the geometry of a car crash, the ambiguous smile of the whore as she sees the million liquid headlights flood their perfect lunar madness through the electric desolation of the streets...
I see it and I see it and I see it, and everything else is just the shadow of a dream
Track 3, Reel 1
Nell tapped Karen on the shoulder and pointed to her right. "Look at that."
It was the El Rancho casino. "My God, how corny can you get?!"
At nine PM they had just gotten into town; they were driving along Las Vegas Boulevard for the first time. They had already driven from downtown to the end of the Strip; now they were retracing their steps.
Those who arrive by air can never truly savour the visual feast that is Las Vegas. And even those who drive in by day are being cheated. Approaching Vegas along I-15, whether from LA or, much better, from the east via the endless fields of Kansas, the Colorado Rockies, and the most desolate sections of Utah, one passes through hours and hours of boring, featureless desert -- not the golden sands and prickly pear cacti of southern Arizona but dirty gray desert peppered with meandering ravines and ugly scrub. Mile after mile of parched gray dirt impels one to speeds that would be unheard of anywhere else -- even normally conservative drivers go seventy five or eighty miles an hour, but the average is close to ninety, with over a hundred not uncommon. Most of the time the road is unlit, so at night one just sees the road and then a narrow strand of desert, disappearing at the moment it begins to become clear.
As one approaches Vegas, one sees a handful of houses and warehouses, surrounded by lights. Nothing to speak of. And then all of a sudden, in the distance, the city becomes apparent. A tremendous cluster of red, yellow, green, blue, orange lights -- there's no avoiding the word: an oasis of light in the vast blackness of the desert. One exits the freeway, and is immediately heading south on Las Vegas Boulevard. On the rightthere's Fremont Street, lined with aging casinos -- the most gaudily lit street in the world. No subtlety here: the Pioneer has Vegas Vic, the famous hand-waving neon cowboy. Sassy Sally's has sassy Sally in her skimpy outfit, golden neon legs extending over the sidewalk. The Golden Goose has its golden goose. Binion's Horseshoe Club has a glowing horsehoe. Toward the end is the Golden Nugget, the only classy casino of the bunch. Inside is the world's largest golden nugget. Right behind it is the jail. At the end of the road is the huge Union Plaza, complete with a Greyhound bus terminal. Signs for fifty cent hot dogs, twenty five cent ice cream, seventy five cent Corona. Girls in short skirts on the sidewalk, handing out coupons and fake rolls of coins, redeemable for a personalized baseball hat or a keychain or one free pull on the ten foot tall promotional slot machine. F.W. Woolworth, homeless walking down the street, and flashing lights in every color of the spectrum.
And straight ahead, down Las Vegas Boulevard about a mile: the start of the Strip. Not the same density of lights as on Fremont, but more genuine opulence: these are not dumpy old casinos, they are brand new, sprawling resorts. Each one has a huge pool, a health club, three or four or ten restaurants.... Circus Circus, with the giant clown out front. Caesar's Palace, with its pseudo Roman exterior. The Excalibur, looking like a humungous version of the Magic Castle in Walt Disney World. The Mirage, with a miniature volcano in the front yard, going off every half hour....
With all this extravagance to choose from, there was no good reason for Nell and Karen to pull into the El Rancho, one of the rattier casinos on the Strip. But Nell was amused by the fake Wild West exterior. They pulled into the parking lot.
"Did you see that sign back there?" said Karen.
"What sign? I've seen about twenty billion signs since we got off the highway."
"No, I mean this was a normal looking sign on the side of the road. It said 'Entering the Town of Paradise,' or somethinglike that."
"Huh. I thought this was Las Vegas."
"Maybe there's different boroughs, like in New York. You know that sign -- 'Brooklyn, America's Fifth Largest City'."
They walked into the casino and sat down at the two dollar blackjack table. They each bought twenty dollars worth of chips. After an hour, Nell had fourteen dollars and Karen had twenty two. They decided to quit.
"You were up eighty dollars there, Nell," observed Karen. "You should have quit while you were ahead."
"Yeah yeah yeah. Hey, I'm tired of driving. Let's sit down and have a drink."
"You weren't even driving."
"You know what I mean."
"We can sit over there by the band. They don't sound bad at all."
They chose a table and sat down. "What's an appropriate Vegas drink?"
Karen thought about it seriously for a moment. "I guess any drink is appropriate here." She thought again. "We're in the El Rancho, right? What did the cowboys drink?"
"Yeah." Karen laughed.
The cocktail waitress came, a fortyish blonde with an excellent figure and a skimpy outfit. Karen ordered a gin and tonic; Nell asked for a grasshopper.
"Get a load of that skirt," said Karen.
"It's a uniform, I guess."
"The band's not bad."
"Not good either," Karen grinned.
Nell smiled back weakly.
"No, I haven't really been listening. I'm just taking in the ... vibes, you know."
They sat there silently for a while, sipping their drinks and watching the people pass. Finally, Karen said "Look up on stage. I think the keyboardist is watching you."
"Yeah, right," Nell scoffed. But of course she looked. Karen was right: the keyboardist was staring at her. Not offhandedly but intently.
"He's cute," said Karen.
"He's all right."
Just then the set ended. They watched the band members disperse. The drummer and the bassist ambled over to the bar. The singer and guitarist stood by the side of the stage, talking and flirting with their girlfriends. And sure enough, the keyboardist was moving in their direction.
"Mind if I join you?" he asked.
Nell detected something strange in his voice -- maybe it was only nervousness, but it seemed more like outright fear, a fear too profound to have any source in their immediate situation. "Sure," she said. "I mean ... no, I don't mind."
Karen grinned her sexiest smile. But he was staring straight at Nell; he hardly even noticed Karen sitting there. "I'm John," he said.
"I'm Nell, and this is Karen."
"Where are you from?"
"Chicago. We just graduated from the University of Chicago, and we're on our way out to California."
"It seems like half the people in Vegas are either on their way to California, or on their way from California."
"Which category are you in?" asked Nell.
"I guess I'm just kind of on my way to nowhere," answered John with a smile. "I've been in Vegas for about eight years. I just flew out here from New York for a week's vacation, and I never left. Similar situation to you actually; I'd just finished college."
"Where'd you go?"
"That'd be a crazy place to go to school ... right on Washington Square."
"It was pretty crazy," John agreed.
The waitress came by. "Get these two another round," said John. "And I'll have a margarita.
"So you just got your degrees, huh," John continued. "What was your major?"
"Philosophy," said Nell.
"English," said Karen.
"I wish I'd had the guts to major in philosophy," said John. "My parents wouldn't let me do anything like that. They wanted me to do computers. It was like pulling teeth to get them to let me get a math degree instead."
Karen said, "They wanted you to be able to get a job."
"You got it. They were right, too, in a way -- I mean, that's what I'm doing now is teaching math."
"So you teach in the daytime and play piano at night?" asked Nell.
"I only teach part time," explained John, a little sheepishly. "Two classes a semester, at the university. But I never play in these casino lounges. I really hate these places. I'm just playing tonight as a favor to a friend; their keyboardist's sick. But anyway," he said, tearing his eyes away from Nell, "what brings you guys to the El Rancho tonight?"
"Don't ask me," said Karen. "She's the one who dragged us in here."
"I don't know," said Nell.
"I've got one more set to go. After that, I'd love to take you guys out somewhere more exciting. How long have you been in town? What have you seen?"
"This," said Karen.
"We just got off the expressway," explained Nell.
"Hey -- you've got a lot to see then. It all gets kind of boring once you've lived here a while, but the first time it's fantastic. Vegas is one of a kind, man."
"I can't imagine living here," said Nell, shaking her head.
"It's not like you think," said John. "I haven't been in a casino in a couple months. The only reason I come in at all is to eat in the buffets."
"You don't gamble at all."
"I did when I first came here. But I haven't gambled a cent in over six years."
"I guess that makes sense, if you live here."
"Well there's just so many opportunities for it -- not just in the casinos. Every single 7-11 has a couple poker machines in it. And there's a 7-11 on just about every corner."
"A 7-11 on every corner," repeated Karen. "Only in America."
"Only in America," grinned John.
Nell looked at Karen and said, "Remember Denver?"
"Yeah -- on every corner there's an All Right Parking."
"Here it's 7-11's," said John.
The rest of the band was up on stage. John looked at his watch. "I'll be done for the night in forty five minutes." The cocktail waitress hadn't come back yet. He took a ten out of his wallet and laid it on the table. "That's for the drinks. Hey, if you guys want to wait around, I'd really love to show you the sights."
"We'll be right here," said Nell, smiling, staring straight into his eyes.
John went back on stage; the band started off with 'Eight Days a Week.' "He's really got you going," observed Karen.
"So what if he does," says Nell. "He's a nice guy. A lot better than I would've expected to meet in this place."
"You're just jealous because he likes me."
Forty five minutes later, right on schedule, John came back to the table. They decided to go in his car -- to give theirs a break. He took them downtown to the Golden Nugget ... they sawthe world's largest golden nugget and other assorted golden artifacts. He taught them how to play a few of the more absurd casino games, like Red Dog and Pai Gow Poker. Then they drove down the Strip to the Mirage, to see the volcano out front, the shark tank behind the registration desk, the famous white tigers....
Nell and Karen were very impressed by the white tigers, kept in a large cage in a back witn of the Mirage. "They're beautiful," Nell kept repeating.
"They are," agreed John. "They also have dolphins here, out back, but that exhibit's closed at night."
"Yeah," said Karen, "it's getting late."
"Actually it's just a little after twelve," said John. "This is a twenty four hour city, you know."
"Well I've seen about enough casino for the rest of my life," said Nell.
"Well I can take you back to your car," said John. "Or if you want, we can take in a show. That's the Vegas thing to do, I guess."
They looked extremely unenthused.
"Or if you're really sick of the casinos, there's a few good nightclubs around town. What kind of music do you like?"
"She's a jazz freak," said Karen. "I don't really feel like hearing music, I guess."
"She's into that crazy avante-guard stuff," said Nell. "It gives me a headache."
"Hey, you know, if you're into jazz we should really go to the Escape Too. They've got Carl Fontana playing tonight -- he's like the king of the trombone. The third set starts around twelve thirty, there's plenty of time."
"Fontana, I thought he was retired," said Nell.
John grinned. "You really know your shit, huh. He retired to Vegas. But he plays local gigs once in a while -- gets bored I guess. I know it doesn't pay much; he must just do it for fun. I've talked to him a couple times; he's a really nice guy."
"Why don't you go, Nell," said Karen. "I'm tired anyway."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. Just drop me off at the El Rancho."
"Well you've got to check into a hotel somewhere, don't you?"
"Mmmm hmmm," said Karen. "Right. I'm not even thinking."
"Circus Circus is probably the cheapest place on the Strip, if you're worried about money. If not, Caesar's is probably the nicest...."
"Circus Circus," said Karen and Nell in unison.
"Let's go," said John.
They drove back to the El Rancho, and Karen and Nell followed John to the Circus Circus. They got their room keys -- $25 for the night -- and Nell came out to the car alone. As soon as she stepped into the car, she felt something strange in the way John looked at her, but she couldn't place what it was.
At the Escape Too they made more harmless small talk. John told her stories from his days at NYU. She told him whatever U. Chicago lore she could dredge up from her memory. After four or five drinks she could hardly keep track of who was talking. When the band quit at quarter till two, they were both fairly intoxicated.
"So do you want to come back to my place?" asked John forthrightly.
"Mmmm hmmm," said Nell.
"I'll take you back to Circus Circus if you want."
She made no answer, just got up from the table and wobbled toward the door.
"You're pretty drunk."
"Look who's talking. You're not exactly sober yourself."
"I guess not. Hey, Fontana put on a hell of a show tonight."
"Yeah, he really did. I didn't like that guy on the sax though."
"Jimmy Cook. That guy's like omnipresent on the Vegas jazzscene. He's really not bad if he plays within his limits, but Fontana pushes him, you know, and then he tries to play too fancy."
As soon as they walked into his apartment, Nell said "Let's hear some music." She flopped down on the couch. John put on 'A Love Supreme.'
"Coltrane. Beautiful. You know, I can't believe I ran into you tonight. What's the chance of that, you know?"
He got a very strange look on his face. She couldn't figure it out, and very rapidly stopped trying. He sat down on the couch beside her.
They made love on the couch, and fell asleep still locked in embrace. Eventually he woke up and carried her into the bedroom.
He woke up to her voice exclaimin, "Whoa!"
"What," he said thickly.
"Where am I, Capitol Records?"
"Oh, you mean the equipment. I play the keyboard, and I make my own tapes. It's not that much really, just an eight-track recorder and a mixing board. And a drum machine and my keyboards."
"It looks like a lot to me."
He smiled and shrugged.
"What kind of music do you play?"
"All kinds. Mostly fusion, I guess you'd call it."
"At this hour?"
She smiled at him, raising her eyebrows slightly.
John tried to read her look but he couldn't -- he never had been much good at that sort of thing. So he just said "Okay."
He turned on the drum machine and two of the keyboards, typed a few commands into the computer at the corner of the room, and played one of his shorter songs -- about two and a half minutes of bass, drum, guitar and electric violin.
"That's really amazing," she said. "It sure beats the band at the El Rancho."
"That's not my band," he said, embarrassed. He walked back over to the bed and kissed her. "Christ," he said. "Do you really have to go to California just now? I'd really like to get to know you."
She smiled and wrapped her arms around him. "I really like you too."
All of a sudden, he pulled out of her arms and got up. "What do you want for breakfast?"
"Oh... umm ... I guess I should go see Karen."
"You want to all do a breakfast buffet? Circus Circus, a dollar ninety eight. It's not the best buffet in town, but it is the cheapest."
"Ummm ... do you ... d'you think you could just drop me off instead. I need to talk to Karen alone."
"Hey, no problem," said John, in the most casual tone he could muster.
"What are you doing tonight, though?"
"Are you still gonna be in town?"
She paused a moment. "Yes."
"I've got no plans. You want to meet somewhere?"
"At the El Rancho, at nine. It's a good spot for us."
John grinned. "The El Rancho it is. Come on, let me get you to Circus Circus."
At nine that night John walked into the El Rancho. He saw Nell sitting at the same table. "I see they got their regular keyboardist back," she said.
"No they didn't," said John. "I don't know who this guy is. Freddie's gonna run out of friends pretty soon, I think."
"We've made a decision," said Nell.
"You and Karen?"
"Mmmm hmmm. We're staying in Vegas. We got a copy of the Vegas paper, and a copy of the LA Times. We decided we can't afford to live in California. We'd run through our savings in two or three months."
"Hey, that's great," said John, grinning widely. "But I'vegot to warn you, the job market here is really good but it's kind of limited. There's a lot more variety in LA. Or San Diego. I wouldn't go to LA; San Diego's a whole lot nicer."
"Well if we can't find anything good here, then I guess we'll move on. But we're going to get a place. You want to help us?"
"Hey, sure. There's no shortage of apartments in Las Vegas."
"I noticed a lot of apartment complexes."
"Almost all of them have vacancies. But it's a really big city -- about three quarters of a million people. You've got to decide what part of the city you want to live in."
She grinned. "I'd kind of like to live in Paradise."
"You saw the sign on the Strip. That's pretty freaky, huh? Not quite what Dante had in mind."
"I guess the real thing is even weirder than he imagined.... So it's true, though, there is a town called Paradise?"
"It's kind of a relic -- I mean there's one mayor for all of Las Vegas, which includes the ... towns or whatever ... of Paradise, Las Vegas, East Las Vegas and so on. But still, it is a town called Paradise."
"I like that."
"It's really a little sick. I guess some mobster thought up the name, back in the forties. All the big casinos were raised by mobsters, except the really recent ones like the Mirage and the Excalibur. This is one of the few exceptions -- this one's really old. This was here before there was anything."
"This place must have an interesting history."
"Interesting but short. There was basically nothing here -- it was a piddling silver-mining town I guess -- nothing here till after World War Two."
He took her to a Vegas show that night -- La Cage, the better of the two transvestite shows that were playing at that time. Men dressing up as Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, et cetera, and lip synching to their songs. It was goofy but theylaughed all the way through it, then went back to his place again. The next day he found them a small two bedroom apartment, about half a mile from his. He took them to the Salvation Army to pick up some mattresses and a table and chairs and a couch. They strapped the mattresses on the roof of his car, and the couch on the roof of Karen's, and drove them back to the new apartment.
"You two really are crazy, you know?" he said. "Do you have any idea what you're doing? Just coming into a strange city, and setting up house."
"We're confronting reality," said Karen. "I didn't want to be one of those people hanging around Hyde Park for five years after graduation, trying to figure out what to do. I want to go out into the real world and make the best of it."
"There's a hell of an idea," John said thoughtfully.
"What?" asked Karen.
"Confronting reality. It could be dangerous."
"Don't get all philosophical," said Karen.
"This isn't the real world anyway," said Nell. "This is Paradise."
John smiled. "I guess I'll leave you guys to get settled. Give me a call tonight if you want to, or any time."
John went back home and flopped down on his bed in a daze. He had just come to a truly startling realization. Nell was Ellen. He had a sudden urge to talk to Jim Allison. He had a feeling Jim would understand. The urge made him sick to his stomach.
If one of his friends had reported a premonitory dream, he would have laughed at them. He would have called them stupid, superstitious, dishonest. He would have explained to them the nature of causality, as implied by the equations of physics.
Now he didn't know what to think. It hadn't exactly been a premonition -- the name had been wrong, and presumably so had been the plot. Unless Nell really was the product of a medical experiment -- and he couldn't bring himself to believe that. No,he reassured himself, I'm not yet that far gone.
And what about the other dream? Had that been, in some aspects, premonitory as well. What was Jim Allison up to?
Like any rational individual would, he put the whole mess out of his mind. Whenever it popped into his consciousness, he pushed it back. He had too much else to think about, too much to do.
He was seeing Nell just about every night. They were at the Escape Too every Friday and Saturday, and he took her to every casino show that seemed to have the slightest possibility of being worth seeing. He had a passion for foreign food, and he took her to all his favorite restaurants: Moroccan, Brazilian, Japanese, Thai, French, Vietnamese. Several times they went to the Shark Club, a disco which he'd always had an aversion to. One weekend they drove up to Death Valley and hiked around. Maybe one night out of every three she was sleeping at his place. They had a few minor arguments, but nothing serious; they were getting along fantastically.
After about three weeks, he noticed his bank balance significantly declining. It was expensive as hell taking her out every night. Without hardly thinking it over, he decided to get a job. He put in an application for a programming job at Bracemer, a local chemical company. He obtained three excellent letters of recommendation from professors at school. About a week later, he was called in for an interview. He was working nine to five, for the first time since 1979 -- the year before he'd gone to college.
He knew that he was neglecting his music: he'd gone from ten hours a day in front of the keyboard to one or two. He had tripled his workweek. But all the same he felt elated, as if he were slowly waking up.
The money was good but not great -- about twenty six thousand a year, plus benefits. Not quite triple his previous salary. But the work was easy, and reasonably interesting -- mostly running statistical analyses of laboratory data. It was, at least, no duller than teaching algebra to indifferent business majors. He hated to admit it to himself but, Nell aside, the change felt good. Before long the Ellen dream became a distant, haunting memory. John felt as though, in Karen's words, he wasfinally "confronting reality."
Meanwhile Nell was looking for a decent job, without much success. She applied to all the casinos for some sort of "manager trainee" position, but she was told again and again to go back to school -- get a degree in business, or hotel administration, or accounting. Karen had about the same experience. In another month or two their savings would be gone. Something had to be done. One day, after breakfast at the Tropicana buffet, Karen confronted Nell. "I think it's time to face facts," she said. "We've put in probably twenty applications each. We're having a hell of a vacation, but it can't last."
Nell sighed, annoyed. "Can we talk about this out by the pool?"
They had worn their bathing suits under their clothing. For the past few days, having run out of job interviews, they had been spending their time at the Tropicana. It was the best pool in Las Vegas, complete with a waterfall, an in-pool bar, and in-pool blackjack tables. Officially it was for hotel guests only, but there was never a problem getting in.
They walked out to the pool, shed their jeans and tops and lay out in the sun in their bikinis, inspecting their ever-darker skin. Nell had a somewhat boyish figure; she was slender with small breasts and narrow hips. Karen had a much fuller physique, and attracted frequent stares.
"It's fucking nice out here," said Karen. "Where do all these guys come from, anyway?"
"A lot of good looking guys," agreed Nell. "It's a hell of a pool, too. Sure beats the gym at Chicago."
They lay there for a while, eyelids drawn, absorbing the brilliant morning sun. By afternoon it would be a hundred and ten, too hot to lie out. But at ten o'clock it was just warm enough for comfort.
Finally Karen said, "There's nothing wrong with taking asummer vacation in Vegas...."
Nell turned her head toward Karen and opened her eyes wide. "But...."
Karen grinned. "But I don't think there's any point to stay here past the end of August. I mean, we just paid the second month's rent. We've got until September eighth. That'd be a good time to get out of here. We'll still have the money to get a place in LA or San Diego or wherever."
"Barely. Rents near UCLA are like nine hundred a month for a studio. Near UCSD it's not much better. I mean, we could live in a slum, but...."
"Look, Nell," said Karen, a little annoyed. "The fact is that we're not gonna get decent jobs in this city."
"Look, you're always talking about facing the facts," said Nell. "You want to talk realistically, the economy really sucks right now. I don't think we'll be able to get a 'decent' job anywhere. We don't exactly have any marketable skills. If we wanted to be fucking realistic, we'd either go back to school for something useful or else get jobs waiting tables."
"I am not going back to school," said Karen. "Not for a long time."
"Not every place is as demanding as Chicago," Nell pointed out.
"I don't care," said Karen.
"I want to take at least a year off," said Nell.
They sat there for a couple minutes, staring at the hotel guests playing volleyball in the pool.
"I guess you're right," said Karen. "We won't be able to get good jobs anywhere, without some kind of training."
"It's not impossible, I mean," pointed out Nell. "In the New York Times there're plenty of ads under 'College Graduate'. And there's a few in LA."
"But most of those jobs really suck. They're glorified secretary jobs."
"You've got to work your way up," said Nell. "Look, I canaccept that. I'm pretty well qualified to argue metaphysics, and you're pretty well qualified to deconstruct Shakespeare, but...."
"That and a quarter will get you an ice cream cone at Sassy Sally's."
"Of course you've got an ulterior motive," pointed out Karen, smiling knowingly.
Nell blushed. "You mean John."
"I've seen you maybe one night out of five since we got here."
"Did I tell you he got a job at Bracemer."
"It's a chemical company."
"What's he doing?"
"Programming computers, I think. Something with computers and statistics."
"I thought he was totally into his music. He told me that was like a full time job."
"Well, it was a full time job with no pay. He just said he got tired of living on nine thousand dollars a year."
"Can you really blame him?"
Karen looked at Nell strangely. "Are you really serious?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know the real reason he got that job."
"What do you mean, the real reason?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"What about me?"
"He got the job because of you," Karen said slowly, as if she were talking to an idiot. "Look, he's been dragging you all over the fucking city every night. You think nine thousand a year will pay for that?"
"I never thought of that."
"You never thought of that."
"He just always pays for everything. I just assumed it was no problem...."
"It's no problem for him, he's in love. I'm just saying...."
"You really think he's in love?"
"Wipe that grin off your face. You're really fucking blind, Nell. He's got it bad for you."
"I guess I just assumed cause he was older he had plenty of money. But I mean, you're right ... two courses a semester, and two or three over the summer ... nine or ten thousand or whatever ... that's about as poor as you can get. You have to manage things pretty carefully to keep an apartment and a car on...."
"And a miniature recording studio."
"Yeah, he must have ten thousand dollars worth of equipment in that room. It must have taken him years to save that up. Christ, I really feel like shit now. I've really been taking advantage of him."
"You haven't been taking advantage of him, you have no money either," pointed out Karen. "Hey, I just thought of something -- you're having sex in his recording studio, right? Do you think he's been making recordings?"
She doubled over with laughter. "I wouldn't put it past him. No, that's...." When she finished giggling, she said, "You've convinced me. I'm staying in Vegas. If I can't find a decent job, I guess I'll take what I can get."
"I was thinking, we could apply for a job as a cocktail waitress."
"Ooh baby, I'd love to wear that outfit."
"Those outfits are pretty disgusting. But they seem to make pretty good money."
"Actually, we could apply right here."
"Yeah, why not?"
They spent the day going from casino to casino, asking aboutwaiting jobs. Everyone they talked to said the same thing, "You've got no experience."
They went home for dinner feeling dejected. "Good fucking God," said Karen. "We were wasting our time looking for good jobs. We can't even find a lousy one."
"I guess you're supposed to start out at some piddleshit restaurant, then work your way up."
"At this rate we'll have to start out behind the counter at the 7-11."
"Four fifty an hour."
"You think it's that bad? We made more than that for work-study."
"I don't know, something like that."
"You want to hear a crazy idea?"
"Sure," said Nell. Her attention was starting to wander; she was thinking about a paper she'd written for her Kant class last semester. Discussing the claim that the Critique of Pure Reason was written quickly and haphazardly, not in a logical manner at all.
"If we can't get a decent job, maybe we should get an indecent one."
Nell snapped out of her trance. "What do you mean?"
"Well, how else can you make a hundred fifty bucks a night, and pay no taxes on it?"
"Come on, Karen, what are you talking about? You want me to whore myself? You want to be my pimp?"
"I'd hope you could make more than a hundred fifty a night that way. No, seriously, you know that Pink Pussycat place around the corner. I went by there the other night, just for the hell of it, and wound up talking to one of the dancers."
"You went by a strip bar?!" Nell exclaimed. "What the hell for?"
"Well I get bored at night while you're being wined and dined," said Karen. "I drive past there every day, so I decided to go in and see what was up. And one of the dancers came up andtalked to me. I guess she wondered what I was doing in there."
"I can see that."
"Anyway, she said you make seventy to a hundred eighty a night, all tips."
"Just for dancing?"
"Well ... the guys aren't allowed to touch you. But to make a lot of money you have to do private table dances, just dance for one guy by their table. It looked like the girls got awful close to the guys doing the private dances. But most of the time you're up on the bar, you know, just dancing and collecting tips."
"You're not totally naked, you have to wear a G-string."
"It must be weird being a dancer in a state where prostitution's legal."
"But prostitution's not legal in Vegas."
"I thought it was."
"It's only legal in the rural counties, not in Vegas or Reno. You've got to drive forty five minutes out of the city, to Pahrump."
"You've really done your research."
Karen smiled. "Well, at any rate it's something to think about."
Nell considered the idea. "Well the worst that could happen is I'll walk out after five minutes."
Karen grinned. "You're into it?"
"I guess so -- why not?"
"Are you gonna tell John?"
"Of course I will," she said sharply. "I'm not going to lie to him."
"I don't know, guys can be funny."
"Look, if he got a job just for me then he'll have to understand."
"Hey, it's up to you."
"Well, I don't have to tell him right away. Only if Idecide I'm gonna do it. I mean, he'll notice anyway ... I'll have to give him some reason for not being able to go out with him at night."
"What're you gonna tell your parents, though? They weren't too psyched about this expedition to begin with."
"Your parents won't care."
"Probably not, I guess."
"Christ, I'm a grown woman. What the fuck does it matter what they think."
"You can play it by ear, I guess."
There was a knock on the door. "Come in," said Karen.
It was John. He nodded at Karen, then looked straight at Nell. "I've got to talk to you," he said. "It's important. You want to get some dinner?"
"We were making burgers," said Nell.
"No, it's okay," said Karen. "I'll put yours in the fridge."
"Come on, John, what is it?" insisted Nell.
John started fidgeting uncomfortably. Karen said, "He wants to talk to you alone.
"What is it?" repeated Nell, as soon as they got into his car.
"I've been offered an outstanding job," said John. "It's only temporary, for two months. Fifteen thousand dollars, plus room and board. It's hard to pass up."
"That's great!" she exclaimed.
"That's the good part. The bad part is, it's out of the country. Far away. So I really wanted to talk to you about what your plans are."
"What country?" asked Nell excitedly.
"Take a guess."
He paused, looking more awkward than she'd ever seen him. "Kuwait."
She paused for five or ten seconds. "I read in the paper they were sending people there to clean up the oil leaks."
"Well I won't be running around with a shovel. They want me to run around in the desert with a portable computer, figuring out how the cleanup is going, I guess. A whole bunch of people from Bracemer are going. A whole contingent."
"That's really incredible."
"It's a lot of money. And it should be a hell of a trip. When you think about it, it's really nice of them to ask me, I mean since I'm so new on the job and all."
She paused again. "Are you going to go?"
"I haven't decided."
"What I wanted to ask you, what are your plans for the next couple months?"
She looked at him nervously. "You mean, am I going to hang around Vegas."
"I mean, what difference does it make. It's a good opportunity for you, you should go."
Suddenly the dream flashed into his mind, with a vividity it hadn't had since that first morning. Nell is my consciousness, and someone else's memory.
He felt the car bump up the curb. Nell screamed.
"Christ!" he yelled. "I'm not even paying attention!"
He steered the car back down.
"No harm done, I guess," said Nell.
"I hope," said John.
"I'll wait for you," said Nell.
"You can stay in my apartment if you want," offered John. "The two of you, I mean. You'd save some money."
She blushed. "That's really nice of you, John. I guess we've got enough money to last two months, though. I mean ... I don't know, it wouldn't feel right."
"I wish I could bring you with me," he said. "But itwouldn't be right. I mean, the working conditions aside, it's an Arab dictatorship; it's no place for a woman. Vegas is a lot nicer place to spend the summer."
"I've got nowhere to go, John. I'm really not sacrificing anything."
He pulled up to the Moroccan restaurant, one of his favorites. For a moment she thought to ask him if they could really afford to eat there, to tell him that they could just go back to his place and fix something simple. But then she remembered the fifteen thousand dollars.
"When do you leave?" she asked.
"Two weeks from tomorrow," he said.
For the next two weeks she slept at his place every night. He took both Fridays off to take her away for the weekend -- once to the Grand Canyon and once to Death Valley. She and Karen spent their days as before -- lounging in the sun, swimming, reading cheap paperback novels. They agreed to start working as soon as he left.
Converted by Andrew Scriven