The Strip in Las Vegas reminds me of Universal Studios in Orlando. In a walk about a mile south of my Family Motel one's vision is overloaded in a short space with impressions of various eras and countries: A fake ancient Egypt, a pretend Paris and a hi tech gambling hall built to the glory that was Rome just to mention a few attractions. Thus one is put in a movie studio frame of mind and can think oneself an extra in an epic motion picture saga of greed, lust and drunkenness. This is what the Vegas going public wants and the management here happily provides it even to the point of allowing massed battalions of illegal Mexican immigrants on the street passing out advertisement for call girls. What a deal this week! If you act now mister you can get a beautiful college co-ed for $69.95 plus tax to be your slave girl in your private hotel room for half an hour and a full hour for a low $139.95 that include the whip. I understand many of these girls came to this part of the country to be actresses in Hollywood, but end up as whores in Sin City. I suppose that college acting classes do come in handy to fake pleasure being with fat old men.
Today is a beautiful day. The sky is clear blue and from one direction I can see mountains and from the other the busy airport where planes take off and land regularly like intelligent dragon flies. I look across the street to awesome Mandalay Bay in its golden charm. I went over yesterday and took the tram up to the Four Seasons. The passengers in my car were mostly business people talking about how fast the economy was going south and hoping they wouldn't lose their jobs. I pulled a Buttinski and told the group the truth as I saw it
“You ain't seen nothing yet, folks! President Obama is a neo-Marxist who intends ditch capitalism. In a few years you'll all be living in a shack eating beans if you're lucky. Obama and his socialists have absolutely no use for the business class. I'd say your best bet is to jump ship and become bureaucrats.”
The silence lasted about a second, but seemed longer and then a well dressed businessman, perhaps a senior vice president of some soon to be bankrupt company, with grey hair and a well fed look spoke up, “Well fella you're preaching to the choir. The SS United States has hit the iceberg and its cut her open and we are sinking fast. The future looks bleak. The best we can do is head for the life boats and hope to land on a fertile shore.”
The audience cast down their eyes and did a collective sigh as the doors opened and the trip ended.
About noon I ended up at “The Irish Pub” on The Miracle Mile as some call Las Vegas Blvd. I think the miracle is so many people from so many different parts of the USA and the world keep coming to this piece of sandy desert that only offers opportunities for bankruptcy, AIDS and liver cancer. I take a seat at the bar and Fred the bartender informs me that Coors draft are on sell today at $2 per glass. I accept the offer and give him two Yankee dollars for what I'm sure will turn out to be a number of bewskis. The afternoon wears on and I have seat with a grand view of the heart of Las Vegas Blvd. and the sea of human beings of walking by on the street or coming into this pub, which has wall to wall slot machines and gaming tables.
Then someone takes the empty bar stool next to me and I turn to look – It's Ronbo and he's gotten younger than the last time I saw him. He is wearing the regulation combat uniform with matching boots. I notice the patch on his shoulder is Military Intelligence and the rank on his collar indicates the rank of staff sergeant. I offer him my hand, “How do you do it, Ronbo? The last time I saw you were 30 something and today you look about 25. Do you get younger as time goes by”
Ronbo smiles with perfect teeth like I had about 35 years ago and offers, “Didn't you once say that the perfect soldier was about 25 years old with a least five years service? Aside from the different uniform I'm what you used to look like in your middle 20s.”
I knock back about half a Coors and look at the two of us reflected in the mirror: the man on the right who is old, grey, fat, and wearing glasses; and the younger man in perfect fitness and tanned with intense bright brown eyes.
I say to Ronbo, “Did I ever really look that good?”
Fred walks around the bar to take Ronbo's order, “The policy of this establishment is one free drink to all military personnel in uniform and on a personal note let me thank you for your service to our country.
“Da nada,” states Ronbo, “It is an honor to be allowed to serve the Republic. I'll take a Coors like my dad here.”
“I thought I saw a family resemblance. So you're this soldier's father,” says Fred.
I smile and wink, “Yes, it is the truth. I created Ronbo.”
Fred goes off to get Ronbo his beer.
“Dad? What's this dad nonsense? You're a fictional character that I created. What the heck are doing in the flesh?”
Fred returns with the beer and Ronbo takes a sip, “Well if Death can appear in the flesh then I'd say its fair dealing for a fictional character to become real. And you are my father who created me out of nothing.”
We are interrupted by loud bells and whistles: someone has won the daily jackpot on the slot machines. This person turns out to be a large fat woman with a terrible dye job on her hair who keeps saying over and over as security escorts her to the paymaster, “I never won anything in my life before this day.”
The jackpot is $20,000 and I say to Ronbo as she passes us, “I hope she spends her money on a good dye job and loses about 50 pounds.”
Ronbo takes in the scene, “The usual course of events is for the winner to blow the pot of gold. It's mad money, so you go crazy with it and have stories to tell your friends and families.”
I finish off the brewski and motion Fred for a refill.
Ronbo says, “Slow down, old man, the evening is young.”
Fred serves me my beer, pulls two dollars off the pile and retreats to the cash register and rings it up. Fred is an honest bartender; with all the security hosts and cameras watching employees every move. Honesty is the only policy in Vegas.
“What's the deal with you Ronbo? Did you do this metamorphosis just to tell me to quit drinking? I have been officially diagnosed by the best doctors at the Veterans Administration as being a Periodic Alcoholic, This means in layman's terms that I can be sober for months or years and then return to the booze when I undergo a life crisis like throwing everything in the car and heading West."
Ronbo takes a tiny sip, clearly he's nursing the beer, “It was a rational thing to have done at the time what with being fired from your job and having information the Secret Service was going to arrest you. However, it would appear this dark cloud has passed and the warrant withdrawn for whatever reason. Maybe they like the idea of you being way out West and thousands of miles from Caesar's Throne in Washington, D.C.? At any rate, here you are in Vegas, as Bill Ayers the Mad Bomber would say, 'free as a bird and guilty as hell.'”
I kill some more beer and say to Ronbo, who has spotted a very attractive street entertainer dressed like Mary Poppins and passing out flyers in front of the pub on the street,
“I didn't try to assassinate Clinton back in 1994. I never came within a country mile of the Slick Willie.”
Ronbo turns his attention back to me. “No you didn't, but you did plan it out all in your head. The idea was to shoot Clinton when he was jogging. This you thought was his weak link in his security. I would note you were armed at the time period in question with .45 colt automatic pistol. Then you traveled to Washington, D.C. in January, 1994. The plan was to wait and watch for as long as it took. Then for some reason you got cold feet and returned to Florida where you sold the gun for beer money.”
I finish off my second beer and wave the empty glass at Fred.
“Et tu, Ronbo? So you join my legion of critics? As is well known thoughts do not actions make. Yes, I did plan in my head a presidential plot. I'll even admit to some role playing as an assassin, but it was all done for the purpose of good literature. Take Steven King for instance and all the gory murders he's done in his books? The guy is harmless; he wouldn't hurt a fly. He just writes down all this crazy stuff which is published for a handsome profit. The secret to writing good stories people want to read is for the author to put himself in the mind of the protagonist: If you intend to write a story about an assassin engage in harmless role playing.”
Ronbo is watching the Mary Poppins 20-something girl is working the crowd in front of the pub. The weather has become warmer and the establishment has pulled back the glass doors and the crowd walking north on The Strip can flow into the pub, as no barrier exists. The bar stools quickly become filled with happy tourists throwing down vast amounts of cheap Coors beers.
I tell Ronbo, “Since you're in the flesh for the day, why not ask Mary Poppins over there for a date. I'll wager there a pretty girl under the disguise and an honest, intelligent hard working young woman willing to do what she has to do while waiting for the big break. I'll bet she's an incurable romantic who likes handsome young men in uniform.”
Ronbo looks thoughtful, “I think you're on to something there. I do feel a pull towards her. But back to the main topic under discussion, the famous Clinton assassination attempt of 1994. If you had put your thoughts to paper in fictional form, or kept them to yourself you'd been okay, however, you gave them voice at The Party. You do know this is the 15th year since the famous party at your apartment in Orlando where you gave a version of these thoughts to your brother, Jack. At the same time a part time snitch for the police was secretly taping you. He would take this audiotape home and modify it make you say you were actually gunning for President Clinton. The next stop for the snitch Stacy Harris was to take the tape to the SS and placed them in the hands of a very ambitious and not very law abiding agent by the name of John McKenna who told Harris he'd receive a $100,000 tax free dollars for his testimony and tape from a grateful federal government. The rest is history and official records – You took the case to court and lost. This meant a four year cruise on Club Fed where you had many adventures which could have made excellent books of great profits; however, you're a writer who won't write for profit – you just publish on the Internet for free. Why is that old buddy?”
I'm drinking Coor Light Draft Number Four. Fred the bartender has now been reinforced by Joe, a younger guy with bad teeth and has just served me with a $2 profit for himself by way of breaking the ten and thinking I won't notice being well on my to a good drunk. I don't say anything. So what if Joe the Bartender is a crook? The savvy drinker can turn a crooked bartender to his own direction and get free drinks from the House.
I answer Ronbo's question, “There is no chance of rejection. I have a track record for failure. I don't need more.”
Ronbo takes a tiny sip of beer. We have talking over an hour and he's not drank more than half the glass. “What would one more failure in a life of train wrecks matter? But I don't think you'd fail if you really gave the writing gig a serious try? God gives everyone a special gift to survive. You are a born storyteller who in the old days would earn his living by telling the warriors in the Meade Hall the adventures of Beowulf in his epic struggle against Grendel the monster. Am I not a latter day Beowulf? The hero with a conscience who fights against fearful odds for the greater glory of mankind? The only difference between then and now is the technology – mankind is the same – always an audience for a good story and a soft spot in even the hardest hearts for a good poet. Do you remember that story about the American who gets thrown into a Russian concentration camp just after WW II? He only had one talent; that of a natural storyteller and he earned his keep and ensured his safety by telling stories to Russian crooks closely based on movies he had seen. By the way, after this guy got released and returned to the USA he wrote a best seller and lived happily ever after on the profits.”
Joe Rotten Teeth, the dishonest bartender, serves me another beer, the stack of change from the $50 bill I started with when I came in ....how many hours ago?...is getting quite small and all one dollar bills. The evening has suddenly started and poor Mary Poppins is looking a bit wilted; it's the high heels boots they make her wear, but she's a trooper and will hang tough until the relief shows up.
Ronbo says, “The bartender is a crook.”
I smile at Ronbo and reply, “You just noticed Sherlock? I've been on to him since the first order. Do you want to do some street justice later?”
Ronbo smiles, “I've got your back, fire team leader.”
I kick back most of the brewski and return to the topic of storytelling, “You have a valid point, I am a storyteller, and I can meet a total stranger and tell him or her a tall story they usually enjoy. You talked about that American who survived the most brutal prison system in the world by telling tales to hardcore criminals. I had the same experience in our less brutal and cleaner American federal prisons. I remember one boring transport in a prison bus from one prison to the next telling stories to dozens of hardcore federal prisoners. When we finally arrived in a jail someplace to stay overnight, they ask me to keep talking well into the night. When we finally arrived at our destination, I started life up a leg up.”
Ronbo finally puts his one beer of the day out of its misery, “You aren't a failure. Prison didn't kill you, drive you insane, turn you into a pervert, or made you a criminal. You are still the same decent guy you were the day you went behind bars. Many others faced with the same set of difficulties wouldn’t have survived, or if they had would be reduced to bowls of jelly. The only thing changed was that you were made stronger by the experience. This strength is reflected in your long struggle with the SS. How many people in this country would resist them? The usual response is cooperation with a shadowy organization that has vast powers. The very initials of the Secret Service – SS – brings to mind the Nazi SS of the 1930s and 40s. I’d say the fear factor on the part of most Americans explains the almost universal cooperation received from the public.”
I take another drink of the Coors and observe the crowded Irish pub/gambling hall. It was become almost wall to wall people. They cluster thick around the gaming tables and slot machines. The noise level has risen to a high level and one must shout to be heard a foot away. The day shift waiters have been replaced by leprechauns. These leprechauns are dwarfs dressed in green uniforms who deliver large trays filled with free drinks to the gamblers as long as they keep throwing the dice. Then a leprechaun climbs on top of the bar with some sort of green drink in a large narrow glass. He asks the customers at the bar to lean back and he fills their mouth with whatever is in the glass. The women in particular are pleased to be served liquor in these manner and the leprechaun is pleased to serve them this way. Ronbo and I continue our conversation and are ignored by the leprechaun who seems to have a thing for the ladies and ignores the men patrons.
I respond to Ronbo, “Yes, it’s true I haven’t struck my colors. But I wonder if the game was worth the candle? I’m pretty much reduced to poverty. At this moment I have no idea how I’ll survive after my money runs out in a few days. I have no job, no savings and no pension. I suppose I can walk into the desert and keep walking until I drop dead. I noticed driving into Las Vegas that after you get out of town about 20 miles it’s the wide open desert. A person would get lost very quickly in that vastness. I would imagine that when you drop and die, the buzzards pick your bones. I must say this type of an ending has a great attraction for me. I mean strictly speaking it wouldn’t be suicide – just another tragic hiking experience in the great Southwest gone bad. These things happen all the time out here – hikers freeze to death in the winter and die of thirst in the summer.”
Ronbo settles his empty glass on the bar, “I see you have been talking to Death again. I hope you understand that Death is one of his many names. My favorite is The Devil – Yes, he appears to you like that actor in the Bergman film with the medieval dress and a pasty white face. He does this because he knows his appearance and the use of rational thought would be most pleasing to you – It is how you view death.”
I respond, “Ronbo you aren’t going to go Christian on me and say there is a Good Lord who stand in opposition to Satan?”
Ronbo looks me directly in the eye and says, “Can you prove there isn’t? After all, we humans are given free will to believe or not to believe in God. Yes, the Good Lord can guide you, but first you must give him an invitation. So far you have never asked. Thus all you have as advisors are the world, the flesh and the devil.”
I observe the near Roman orgy of the Seven Deadly Sins going on all around me at the Irish Pub,
“Ronbo, I’d say you picked a very poor place to deliver a sermon.”
A bell rings and the crowd cheers: some high roller has just beaten the house and won a small fortune. I notice a squad of security hosts moving towards the lucky individual, a red faced bald man in his 40s.
I continue, “Quite honestly I just don’t know if God exists. I am officially a Christian, but I have strong reservations about there being a personal savior. I think if God does exist he is too busy with the big picture in the universe to be worried about small mortal beings on a tiny planet that orbits a small star.
Ronbo thinks for a moment, “I’d say doubt is a good place to start. At least you don’t rule out the existence of God. I would advise to search in your mind for the good with the same effort given to your chess games with Death. A quest for life affirmation is sure to be more productive than walks in the desert without food or water.”
I notice that on the street Mary Poppins is finding few customers for her flyers as the night wears on – It’s a tough crowd to work as they are not interested in wholesome family entertainment, but she hangs tough like the trooper she is with a friendly smile for one and all. She senses me and Ronbo watching her and she gives us an Academy Award winning smile . I notice for the first time now much she resembles the young Julie Andrews of the 1964 movie. Ronbo pulls off his black beret and bows in her direction. The girl laughs and waves. Then it’s back to business and passing out flyers.
“You just made a friend, Ronbo. When her shift ends ask her for a date.”
Ronbo puts back on his beret, “The thought had crossed my mind. The relief will be coming by soon. What about our street justice? This crooked bartender is ripping people off left and right.”
I finish my beer, “Sounds good to me.”
I motion over him of the bad teeth over with my empty glass, “Another Coors, sir?” asks Rotten Teeth.
“Actually not,” I say in a grim steady voice, “What I want you to do is give Fred $100 of the money you stole from the customers tonight.”
“What are you talking about?” asks Rotten Teeth.
Ronbo says in his best sergeantese, “Buddy we have been watching you rip off the customers left and right all night. I will grant you the amounts are mostly small, but you have stolen most of $50 from my pal here. So the deal is you give Fred a $100 tip and tell him it’s from me, or I yell for security and make a big scene. What’s the decision?”
Rotten Teeth attempts to negotiate, “How about free drinks?”
“No” states Ronbo. “How about you pulling out $100 dollars and giving it to Fred right now?”
Rotten Teeth says nothing and Ronbo tries to get the attention of security host and he speaks,“Okay soldier. You win. $100 to Fred.”
Rotten Teeth walks up to Fred at the end of the bar and hands him money. Fred looks over and Ronbo waves. He comes down the bar and says to Ronbo, “The $100 is very generous but far too much.”
“It wasn’t nearly enough, Fred. You’re a good man. You give excellent service with a smile and conversation. Never change.”
Fred puts the money in his pocket, “I’m too old to change.” He walks away to service his end of the bar.
Mary Poppins' relief finally shows up and soon it will be time for Ronbo’s attempt to get his first date with a real live girl.
“Well it’s about time for the Combat Assault, sergeant, are you sure you’re ready? This is a tough target, a human female.”
Ronbo is looking a little nervous, “You’re the writer, so how about a pick up line?”
“Could I buy you dinner?”
Ronbo looks disappointed, “I was looking for something better."
“How about, greetings Kate, how about a date?”
“Never mind,” Ronbo says, and starts walking towards Mary Poppins who is waiting for the light to change at the intersection only a few feet from where she was standing. I follow along to watch the exchange. Mary Poppins senses our approach and turns to Ronbo who says, “May I have a dinner date with Mary Poppins?"
The girl smiles, “I’m actually Stella Jones of Phoenix, Arizona, and I’ll agree to your offer of dinner if you allow me to offer desert.”
A taxi pulls up to the curb empty and Ronbo opens the near door for Stella, “Thank you, sergeant. gentlemen like you are a rare breed.”
The light changes and the taxi turns north along The Strip with its neon lights and high definition televisions to a night of romance.