Saturday, December 12, 2009
Vegas Q.E.D. Pt. 1
I don't get around to Vegas much anymore, so I was understandably excited when the Nigerian Society of Physics e-mailed me with a remarkable proposition. They wanted me to fly out and report on the recent additions to the Luxor Hotel and Casino. According to the e-mail, the Luxor had added a series of subterranean restaurants, gaming areas, etc., that came together under the thematic heading of "Luxor QED: Mysteries of the Physical World."
Some of my earlier internet communications with Nigeria had been fraught with confusion and intractably labyrinthine banking procedures, but I was hopeful this time as the document was signed by no less than the Crown Prince himself. This optimism was duly rewarded as three days later Fed-Ex delivered a large black package to my door. It was covered with several hundred Igbo and Yoruba characters and was incredibly heavy.
The box contained one round trip ticket; an ostrich's egg; 17 oz. of gold dust; an old Loverboy cassette; a black velvet parchment with QED etched on the front in red; several shells; a solid obsidian skull the size of a catcher's mitt; and a handwritten letter from the physics people, that went:
Dear most honourable Sir,
It is to our praise that we welcome your sincere acceptance of our humble offering. Ours is a new society, young and forthcoming, and hoping with science to relieve much suffering. That you would accept these tokens of our gracious appreciation as we accept the benevolence of watered roots in red clay. Please return any gold dust not used, or in furtherance of payment, as we shall be expecting and God be with you.
Yours Sincerely with,
Robert Mgbawe III, dds
The Luxor is an awe inspiring monolithic black pyramid that, upon closer examination, begins to look like a ride at Disneyland; and not one of the good ones. I had been there before and, with the exception of Carrot Top's delightfully whimsical stage show, I was not impressed. Standing in the near infinite line to check in was doing little to improve this opinion when a passing maid noticed the QED parchment, jutting from my coat pocket, and collapsed to the floor, frantically groping a black box that was attached to her apron, and writhing in obvious agony.
The casino went black and shafts of light scattered over the crowd until finally coming to rest upon ME. Several men in lab coats sped toward me in a golf cart and, after spraying me in the face with something that smelled like a dentist's office, covered my head with a brown sack. Before I passed out I could hear a cacophony of bells, blips, and metallic flourishes accompanied by distinct shrieks in multiple languages.
I awoke sometime later with soft restrains around my wrists and ankles and a terrible burning sensation across my lower abdomen. I wanted to explore this unfortunate condition, but my brain felt submerged in molten marshmallow.
“He has the invitation,” an irritated woman said, and with that I realized that there were people all around me. I tried to focus but they seemed to be moving at an inhuman rate of speed; coming into my field of vision in twos and threes only to disappear before I could fully make them out.
“Ok, OK. He is awake. Fine.”
A woman dressed in a black unitard lifted my shirt and ran a machine over my now throbbing stomach. It blipped and she walked away, content. Several hours and several unusual physical procedures (think black light and a ferret) later I was handed a flute of champagne and guided toward a crimson velvet curtain.
“Good luck tonight Mr. Storm,” said an amiable Malaysian man who proceeded to grab me by the hand and pull me onto a slow moving escalator. He produced a large blue cube of sugar that he dropped into my glass and motioned for me to drink. This was not an unusual request, by Vegas standards, and I downed the drink in one greedy gulp. Immediately, my elbows and chin went numb. Rather than going up or down the escalator seemed to follow a long elliptical arc until, with some apprehension on my part, we were back where we started; only upside down. My brain was still too sluggish to deal with the gravitational implications of this, but did take note of the fact that the velvet curtain, which I had earlier walked through, was now pressed flat into a small repeating pattern on the carpet. As I lifted my head I saw that we were immersed in the buzzing neon glow of an immense casino and I could feel the ground beneath me vibrating.
“You are writing a piece, yes. My name is Tal. Please don’t speak. I can show you most, more than most, but not everything. Yes. You drink? I help you. You must drink fast.” With that, Tal snapped his fingers and a jumpy waitress appeared with a tray of multicolored drinks of various sizes.
Vegas, unlike many other cities, must be brutally penetrated to be appreciated. But Vegas, also unlike many other cities, can fight back. And so you must risk waking up behind a Jiffy-Lube on Fremont St. at four in the morning, bleeding from your anus and missing the index finger from your right hand, in order to fully capture the flavor of the place.
The directory showed that the casino was actually a series of gigantic cylindrical chambers that were connected by smaller cylindrical hallways. Walking into the first chamber, I was instantly overwhelmed by the sound of shrieking cats. They were in small cages, everywhere, piled on top of each other and extending upward well beyond the scope of my vision.
Many tables were surrounded by bleary Asian men clutching hundred dollar bills and screaming at a board that consisted of numbers and closed circuit TV monitors. Groans and shouts came from all directions as Tal tried to explain the game to me. The drinks were causing my head to permanently tilt to the left and one eyelid was fluttering uncontrollably as he rambled on about poison vials, collapsing waves, and multiphasic cats. He plunged his fist into my pocket and pulled out a wad of twenties which he placed on a small black diamond near the edge of the green felt table. The room fell silent.
" Are you sure, sir?" asked the dealer. Tal grabbed my arm and waved it in some kind of gesture that prompted the dealer to continue. He touched the black box at his side and a dark woman in a white robe appeared and led a man, whose head was covered by a black velvet hood, through the room to the dealer. He was carrying a glass box which he placed upon the table. Inside the box was a vial of green liquid, a trip hammer, and a small orange cat.
" The odds are..." the dealer stammered, but Tal had lunged at him, clutching his throat in his hand, and said: " This is Vegas. Fuck the odds."
The dealer waved his hand over the box and the glass went dark. Tal grinned at me and stroked my neck, saying 'This will be good' repeatedly into my ear. A waitress came over, in an obvious state of panic, and placed a lead apron across my chest. The box began to glow. At first it was silent, but then you could hear a faint rustling which grew, as the glowing box became brighter, until it became obvious that cat inside was in a terrible state of distress. The crowd began to hum. Mandarin, Tagalog, Farsi, Senegalese and languages unspoken since the time of Baal screamed through the air above me. The dealer pounded at his skull with his fists as the box started to glow red. The scene was building me to the point of collapse when all at once the box went clear. A collective inhalation went through the room as it was revealed that the cat was both dead and alive.
The crowd went its way. The dealer gave me a knowing look and pushed over a stack of multicolored chips. A drunk stumbled up against me and said "Lucky fucking bastard" before being pounced upon by several large Italians and escorted from the premises. I felt overwhelmed and was about to ask Tal what had happened but his smile let me know that this was unnecessary.
"Now we go to bar and rest."