IT'S A HOT JULY AFTERNOON in the San Fernando Valley. I am alone in my apartment. My wife is at work and the cats are asleep. I am sitting at my dining room table counting the boards that make up its top. Six, yes, six boards of a width of about six inches each, making a tabletop of thirty-six inches or three feet square, for I believe it to be a square table.
I have now measured the boards and counted them several times. I have also taken a pencil, a pencil that was lying in the clutter of the table, and using its point, have removed crumbs that had accumulated in the spaces where the boards join.
So on this hot, hot July day in the San Fernando Valley I'm sitting at my table and have now tired of counting the boards, and I'm just sitting there. Just sitting. I then look at the ceiling. For many seconds, almost a minute. Then I stand and walk over to the nearest wall. I put my face right up to it and cup my mouth with my hands and then I scream. Several times. I rest there for a moment. And then I hit the wall with my head, once.
“It's time for Vegas,” I say.
Please note that even though I live in southern California I did not say that I must, I really must, reconsider psychotherapy. Nor did I say that I should exercise more or get religion or beat myself with a Native American stick or do time in a sweat lodge or attempt to obtain from the Dalai Lama one of the saffron scarves so favored by Hollywood types for its healing and status power.
I said none of that. “It’s time for Vegas,” is what I said.
And I didn’t say that I must now sit and write in my journal or take down a book and read a passage from Camus, Sartre or Kierkegaard that might philosophically speak to me and indeed remind me that I am not alone in my angst and that there are on this rock fellow sufferers, my comrades, the frightened godless.
No. I said none of that. What I said was, “It’s time for Vegas.”
What could I mean by what I said? Do you think that I am a gambler or one who seeks the services of women of the night and the balm of pricey sheets?
Or what if I told you that in saying that it’s time for Vegas I must have meant that I like to go to Vegas in order to watch people? I’ve said that before. Great people watching in Vegas. Do you believe that? Do I believe that?
In other words, do we believe that a man, this man, would travel to Burbank Airport by cab and would go through security’s gauntlet and board one of Southwest Air’s cattle arrangements and fly in methane-saturated air to the hottest effing place on the face of the earth in July in order to watch people?
Here’s what I think I meant. I’ll whisper it just in case there are those about who would be shocked. Lean over and put your sweet ear to my tremblish mouth. Here it is. When it’s hot and I’m alone and I am o’erwrought, I think about going to Vegas in order to drink, shhhh, strong alcohol. I go there to consume, not the vins du table that I consume at home, but the better vodkas, clear and calming. I go to Vegas to drink the serious stuff because it’s something that I have promised never to do at home, even when it’s hot. That’s what I think I meant.
I’ll say it again. “It’s time for Vegas” equals “it’s time to drink.” For I am one of those people who has never learned to stoically sit and tremble. I don’t enjoy it. So when my lungs hurt and my heart is seriously a-flutter and my eyes are brimming with tears and no hug is enough, and it’s hot, I have always said, as I just did, "It's time for Vegas.”
What would be next? Inform my wife, who is working, call for a Vegas room, book a flight, take a cab to Burbank, nod sweetly at the cops at the terminal entrance, trek to the cement-block guard post, take off my hat, take off my shoes, take off my shirt, take off my pants, take off my underwear and spread my cheeks so that a federal operative can look up my wrinkled ass and certify me bombless. I would then board one of Southwest’s cattle planes and fly to Vegas where I would drink vodka and for a few hours quietly breathe.
A few hours. That first sip of vodka is so glorious, the first glass or two. So cool. So glorious. So cool. But you know how it goes from there; I know how it goes from there.
Once I was staying at The Loathsome Luxor and had spent much of my first night at Red Square a, yes, vodka bar in the adjacent, tonier and cleaner Mandalay Bay. I sat by myself at their bar for a while but then someone recognized me from a film that I had done, something about the outdoors and lightning strikes to my character’s head, oddly enough. Much har-haring and drinks were bought me and “goddamn you were funny.” Har-har-har. So many laughs and drinks that when I finally decided to go back to my room I was unable to walk upright. For when I attempted both an upright posture and walking, I became dizzy and nauseated. I therefore ambulated to my room while bent at the waist and looking down at the Luxor's loathsome carpet, its twirly patterns reaching out to kill me. Others were doing the same, we were the bent-over people of three in the morning. All trying to find our room. The upright people—if such exist in Vegas—paid us no mind.
But I made it to my room and passed out on the bed and later that morning I went into the bathroom in order to…oh, how to put it?…yes, in order to puke my guts out. And after my time on the floor with the toilet, I needed some water on my face. So I pulled myself up, found the sink and splashed the coldest that the loathsome Luxor could manage. And then I happened to glance to my right; and in a makeup mirror adjacent to the sink, at about a 3X magnification, I saw a damaged old man with bleeding eyes. He frightened me so that I stumbled backwards and almost fell into the tub.
I was that man.
Later that day I called my wife and wept, the hangover was so severe. And, oh yes, I called her at work.
Today is Friday, July 14, 2006. I’m sitting in my La-Z Boy. My dining room table with its top of six boards is behind me. It’s one o'clock in the afternoon and very hot. My head hurts from a recent contact with a wall. The portable phone is in my hand. I hold it, turn it, look at it and then put it back on the table beside my chair. And instead of calling my wife, then a Vegas hotel, then Southwest Air, I reach for my reading glasses and a book, Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, also on the table next to my chair.
“Existentialist writing both reacts against the view that the universe is a closed, coherent, intelligible system, and finds the resulting contingency a cause for lamentation. In the face of an indifferent universe we are thrown back upon our own freedom.”
Our own freedom.
It must be over one-hundred degrees in the valley. I’m rubbing my head. My mate is home in a few hours. Maybe we’ll open our good cabernet, have a glass or two with dinner.
A cat just joined me in the chair. ###
14 July 2006
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