“You Gotta Believe in Las Vegas”

(performance piece excerpted from Delusion chapter four)

Nothing smells louder than money in the desert. Wandering through the casino, I see an old man working his slot machine, tossing down cheap bar bourbon, smoking a cheaper cigar, going down the line of a twenty-five cent carousel, his eyes glance up for a second, look like two rolls of quarters. He drops himself into the next machine, hopes it’s looser than the last one was tighter than a Christian Martyr. He wants a real whore of a slot machine, looser than his dentures giving way, again, from the tough Prime Rib—only $8.99 at the Frontier. Change Girl’s peering down on him from her catwalk platform in the middle of the seven machine carousel.

She probably told him, “These machines are payin’ out ninety-eight percent.”

And his bourbon-and-seven dreams believed her loose-lipped smile, floating above a white-tufted blouse, scooped-necked like a dance hall queen, showing just enough cleavage . . . makes him buy another roll of quarters . . . yanks the handle down. He hits a ghost stop staring blank white into his soul’s wearing thin in this grind joint.

Outside, there’s three-hundred marching employees on strike, some yelling obscenities at me—burping up Prime Rib and horseradish sauce.

“I only came here to eat,” I yell back. Hell, it’s cheaper than the Stardust, next up on the Strip, where I’ve been waiting in my room, ready to blow my wad since I checked in at 3:30 p.m.. It’s 9:30 prime time. Money smells thicker than water, or blood, or sex in the desert. You gotta believe you’re gonna hold a monster hand at craps.

“New shooter, comin’ out,” stickman says, raking five dice down green felt for you to take your pick of any two, perfect dice measuring three quarters of an inch exactly. There can be no more than one ten-thousandth of an inch difference between the surface of the sides. These aren’t rinky-dink Monopoly dice. You are holding the fortunes of the entire table at Caesars. All eyes are on you . . . throw the red dice down green felt, and bounce them off the black rubber-ribbed rail.

“Seven!” stickman calls out. There’s a buzzz because a new shooter just rolled a natural on his first come-out roll. Players are jumping on the come side, thinking, The table has finally turned and you’re gonna have a hot hand, that brings some of them up from the ashes, puts others over the top, and jams a few right through the roof—stack of chips higher than the first sweet kiss of . . .

“I love you, baby,” you whisper to the dice.

“Shooter comin’ out again,” stickman says, raking the dice back to you roll a . . . “Four. Field Four. Hard way four.”

Gotta make a four before you roll a seven. There’s three ways to make four, and six to make seven, so the odds are two to one against. You play the free odds, back your line bet with another one-hundred dollars. You cock your golden arm, “I got seven passes in this arm tonight,” you say like you’re the King of Las Vegas, and throw the dice . . . bounce off the rail and come to rest on silent green felt.

“Three,” stickman announces your fate has been postponed. You start rolling point numbers chasing your four . . . you roll a six, a five, an eight, a nine. Players are pressing down bets all over the field. There’s a lot of money on the table and it’s all riding in your sweaty hand. With each throw of the dice there’s no other thought in your brain but—a three and a one, a one and a three, or two two’s, there’s three ways to make four and six to make seven. You never want to see a seven again, but if you make your point, the first thing you want to see is a seven on your next come-out roll.

The whole game revolves around the number seven, like the seven major planets, Sun through Saturn, seven days in the week, seven colors in the rainbow, seven deadly sins, seven minutes for the average sex act to reach the foregone conclusion of the man coming. You want your point to come so bad you can taste it grinding your teeth down like white dice.

“I love you, baby,” whisper to the dice, and throw them down the tunnel of faces.

“Seven-out,” stickman says.

And all the bright eyes of the come bettors turn into murky brown pools—stagnant, unforgiving—like stale drinks, ice melted flat, waiting-to-be-picked-up-and-sent-back-to-the-dishwasher eyes watching their fortunes sucked up by the house.

I shuffle to the right, place a meager twenty-five on the pass line, hoping the next shooter can jack me up. But I’m still in Las Vegas, my bankroll is fat, and you gotta believe . . .

“New shooter comin’ out.”

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