Dead Lizards, 7-11, and How to Survive the West

I. Vegas

an excerpt

“Once again there was the desert, and that only.”
― Stephen King

My first memory was of Circus Circus, circa 1976.

Vegas was a place of velour-lined walls and faulty plumbing. Men with red faces and long tongues barked at the night. The itch to move never stopped.  The halls were filled with loud games, all colors to induce nausea, stuffed animals, and old ladies sitting at machines, a pool of cigarette ashes on their laps – a kind of symbolic death.

Vegas and a happy – so I think – 3 year old running down through the madness with a lion puppet in my clutches, calling my aunt’s name. It was in the madness I learned to move about unrestricted, unrestrained, and unsupervised. Those were the 70s… before occult child murder admonitions nightly belched out on TV channels, before molesters were in the schools, in malls, behind bushes, at the IHOP.

This was the Vegas of pools full of chlorine, the bodies of youth, dead lizards drowned by youth. The Vegas of weird women in the 2nd floor of apartment complexes, with too many birds and no family. The Vegas of old buildings, piss filled alleys, and 3rd generation crooners.

In this Vegas, I was the precocious child of ambitious Midwestern families with a bong in the living room and Iron Butterfly on the record player, prohibiting boredom. I was a vinyl child, a product of free and unprotected love that cries out for something beyond the White River of my birth town. We fell apart here. We went to the pits of mines, the long trenches of oil fields.

My second memory was of being pushed down an alley in a stolen Kmart shopping cart the teens in my apartment complex found in a vacant lot. I remember the sound of the wheels squeaking and catching on rocks before tumbling over and letting me out onto the asphalt. I remember trying hard not to cry because I wanted to hang with the big kids, not the babies. The big kids took me to 7-11 where we’d get some hapless adult to buy us sugary drinks and pop-rock candy.

“Nice fucking pants,” my third cousin shouted out at a hooker on the Strip, as we drove to her friend’s house to swim, a cop’s home, a home of chlorine and cinder-block walls. At age 16, I was stocked with Playgirls and booze. Age 16, a virgin in a town of debauchery. “What do you want to do, Aleah? Well, what?” My cousin was – and probably still is –one of the world’s most profane and obnoxious rednecks to escape Indiana. I slid down in the seat and pretended to not be there.

That was Las Vegas, you know – the kind of place that makes a person slide down in her vinyl seat and pretend to not be there.