Slots, Cigs, and Scars
Two things were realized on the last leg of our journey from the Grand Canyon back to Las Vegas:
1- I was about to go back into the real world, we all were, so the next twenty-four hours in Vegas were to be savored.
2- You can pay not much money to shoot a fifty caliber sniper rifle at some dude’s house in the middle of the Nevada desert.
That second realization wasn’t all that important, but still, heck of a billboard…
The last time the seven of us were here, our business was amid the outskirts and among the clouds. Now, we were directly in the heart of the most ridiculous resort city in North America. We pulled into the Bellagio Hotel and Casino parking lot in broad daylight while the sun still rested high in the sky. The RV rumbled in, towering over every other vehicle on the road as sediment from the long road behind us remained stuck to our cabin walls. We parked at the baggage check in amongst exotic cars such as Bugattis, Porsches, and Teslas – a moment that could have been pulled straight out of National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). Not realizing how absurd we must have looked in comparison to our avarice surroundings until we exited the RV, my Parents I immediately felt like we had stepped out to go hiking but instead found ourselves in the middle of an all-encompassing game show. Our sun-kissed selves made our way into the hotel as David and Lindsey left to return the recreational vehicle, and along with it, Maverick…
The RV had served us well, and Maverick was a loyal dog to say the very least. Mostly because he was painted on and couldn’t run away. Regardless, we were down to our core five – our family – and it was our city to explore, just as we had with the vast canyons and landscapes that lay in our wake.
Entering into the lobby of the Bellagio caused a kind of shift. The real world was behind us the moment we passed through those doors. Once inside, you are in this world of unreal possibilities, which also happen to carry very real consequences. It’s a dangerous potion chemically concocted in a beaker resembling a blend of Willy Wonka’s candy garden and a shopping mall. The gold plated elevator doors opened up to a labyrinth of hotel hallways with identical eccentric wallpaper and prototypical hotel art adorning the walls. After about fifty years of going down a hallway, we finally reached my Mom and Dad’s room, and It did not disappoint. The giant glass windows reached from floor to ceiling revealing a view of Vegas unobstructed by the ground-level chaos of lights, sounds, and people. I stared out, high atop the city, being able to see every strangely mesmerizing feature this place had to offer. The fountain in front of the Bellagio soared, leading my eyes up the sides of all the buildings in my eye line. Eventually, I could see over them into the desert that sat behind every building, here before any of this or any of us. Forgotten.
This view provided me a sort of outside perspective while being as much on the inside of it all as one could be. It was all a facade, an illusion that promised permanent satisfaction from temporary pleasures. That being said, I dove right in. I don’t even really smoke cigarettes, but you know what? You can smoke inside anywhere in Las Vegas, so I over-exercised that right. Beers to go? Absolutely. There was a moment where I purchased an adult beverage just so I could go drink it on the sidewalk. Rules were weird here because there weren’t many, and that was fine by me. While I could see the city’s grimy hands dragging me into it’s seductive lap, I did not resist. When in Rome, right?
I’ve always had a bit of a testy relationship with alcohol. And by testy I mean I’ve used it to ruin my life before, and while there are more good times than bad with it, I can often find a problem at the bottom of the bottle. I used to be able to run fast and lift heavy weights, so I chose to pursue playing football my Freshman year of college. That year went well for the most part, and I was somehow able to balance what was then moderate alcoholism with my priorities such as athletics and academics. Then, the final week of school rolled around, the same week I had secured a starting spot in our Spring practices. I ended up blacking out, getting in a fist fight, and resisting arrest to the point where it took four police officers to put me in handcuffs. They ended up kicking the ever loving shit out of me, let me tell you. What the real kicker is though (get it?) is that the state dropped all charges, but the school still suspended me for a year…
What followed was six months of deep reflection and hard work. I can without a doubt say I became a more responsible, self aware, and considerate person during this time. Over that span I worked and saved so that I could go backpacking in Europe with Brad, my other Brother who is three years older than me. While I looked up to Dave, Brad and I did everything together, and he is my best friend for life. Well, eventually the money was earned and we were on our way. Our trip consisted of stopping in England, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. It was the greatest two months of my life to date. We experienced so much, saw so many beautiful and historic sights, met a ton of fascinating and great people, and learned abut ourselves along the way. However, when traveling there is a lot of down time. A lot. I would rad books on the train, in the hostels, and in cafes. But, I would also drink while doing so. Even if it wasn’t a heavy intake, I was still boozing. At the end of it all, I realized, “Wow. I just had the time of my life. Also, wow, I definitely just drank every day for two months straight. Not good.”
No joke, I literally applied to colleges while in a coffee shop in Amsterdam. I arrived back home, eager to hear if I had been accepted. Turns out I had been, at Keene State. This was great news. My journey abroad was over, so I began to rebuild myself as I had returned home thin and worn down, after having left the States in the best shape of my life. That seems to be the cycle I go through, a viscous cycle at that. I find stability, consistency, and comfort, and then out of no where I let it go, and have to end up rebuilding myself and finding my footing again. Even now, as I type this essay, I’m about to graduate college and cannot help but look at how I’ve fallen into the cycle once again. While I drank in Europe I still grew as a person, expanded my mind and changed how I see the world in a lot of ways. That being said, I still carried the weight of my actions in Fitchburg on my back when I arrived in Keene.
I moved into Bushnell my first year here, those apartments were located directly next to the gym and the library on campus. In my first year back in school after having been out for a year trying to figure my shit out, I was going to the gym twice a day, reading consistently, and ended up making Dean’s List. Now, a Senior on the cusp of graduating and taking on the world, I live next to a bar and a gas station. That right there is the cycle I’m speaking of in motion.
David found me wandering around the casino smoking a cigarette, wearing sunglasses with my shoulder length hair down. I must have looked like a sight to behold. Together we went up to our Parents’ room to regroup with them and Lindsey for dinner. The restaurant we had reservations at was a place called Stacked, a five star joint on the Vegas Strip. Every one of us were in get spirits, and not just because of the alcohol. We had been on an amazing trip together, one we can share and never forget, a bonding experience for the rest of our lives. Now, here we ere seated together for one last supper. This moment came crashing down for me though when I opened the menu. The prices were astronomical. David and my Parents kept insisting to get whatever I wanted, but I began to feel uncomfortable, anxious, and honestly angry in a way that I can’t really describe. The prices for appetizers kept laughing in my face, everywhere I looked it reminded me of our humble place in the world, and that I should be working harder to help my family in any way I could. We could afford a meal like this once a year, while others who work half as hard as my Parents could whenever they please. I know, that’s they way of the world, but still, it stirred something deep within me. That stir was soothed and captivated by the sounds of the Beatles.
Following dinner we went to see Love by Cirque du Soleil. An extravagantly coordinated tribute to the Beatles.
I don’t know if it was because of the heavy amount of alcohol and cigarettes I had been consuming throughout the day and into the show itself, but this was the most entertaining thing I’ve ever been to. All five of us sat next to each other in the dark, silent, and then the hypnotic melody of “Because” by the Beatles began to fill the atmosphere. The stage sat in the center of a fully surrounded amphitheater, and the performers would come pouring out from all around as well as from above. The show was entirely engrossing. We all sat there in appreciation of where we were and where we had come from to get there. I think a large part of how much we felt a part of that experience was because this was collectively our last activity together before we would part ways. Our parents had endowed a deep appreciation for the Beatles’ music, and so it felt as though my childhood had come full circle as I sat next to my Mom and Dad as they were both enthralled by the theatrics happening before them. This show absolutely shifted my mood from the jarring experience at the restaurant. That moment with the menu had dragged me out of the illusion of Las Vegas I had so willingly bought into. Thankfully this Beatles show catapulted me right back into it, farther than I had been before even.
After the show everyone was worn out and tired. We stayed out a little longer and got drinks and chatted, but one by one everyone made their way to bed. Eventually, it was just me, alone with my thoughts on the alien planet known as Las Vegas. I was down to the bottom of my pack of cigarettes, savoring every drag as I sipped my overpriced beer along the sidewalk at three in the morning. Eventually the grandeur I had bought into faded as the streets became emptier and emptier. Soon the vibrant neon lights became ugly with every flash, and the once beautiful inhabitants had ascended into their lofts while I remained on the streets with the homeless, the addicts, and the pimps. After everything we had been through, I was back where I was. By myself. The booze faded and the cigarettes crumbled with ash. I could no longer hide from the person I had to deal with once this night ended. Tomorrow, I was no longer cruisin’, no longer reminiscing or making new memories with those I loved, and I was no longer able to rip cigs inside (damn). Tomorrow I was me again, living with the choices I’ve made, and working to make myself better.
Let the cycle begin again.