I haven’t always been a good person. In fact, it’s debatable that I’m a good person now. I suppose all people are selfish about something at some point. But here in Vegas, making a living on the strip can turn you into someone you never expected.
It was the summer of ‘97, and I was employed handing out escort cards. Needless to say, this was not my dream job. The sun out there bore down directly on top of me, and the sweltering heat made it difficult to breathe. It was my sixth day in a row stumbling sweaty and unshaven down the street, waving around cards with nude women plastered on them. By the middle of my shift I could barely stay upright, which made it harder to reel in potential clients for the ladies, or care whether or not I got fired. So — for the sixth day in a row — I tossed my bundle of nudie cards into the middle of the road and ducked into the crisp, exhilarating air of my favorite hotel and casino.
When I escaped into the air-conditioned casino, I groaned with relief from the disgusting heat outside. My skin was an embarrassing shade of red and, there was nothing more I wanted in life right then than a glass of water. The great thing about the casino is that they give you unlimited free water as long as you’re playing, so I exchanged my last tenner for quarters and sat down at a slot machine. The week before this, one of the guys from work won a thousand-dollar jackpot. I figured that a thousand would be more than enough to change my life — get me out of my dead end job — and that I could get at least that much if I stuck with one machine. I sat there plugging quarters into the slot for nearly an hour, and of course I don’t have to tell you that I lost the whole ten. It was okay, I was used to losing, I’d never won anything in my life. Unfortunately that didn’t stop me from feeling the deep sense of regret one feels after making a stupid decision while sober, and I decided I needed a stiffer drink than water.
The afternoon club crowd was thinner than the nighttime club crowd, which made it easy for me to walk right up to the bar and take a seat.
“Isn’t it a little early for a gin and tonic?”
“It’s never too early for gin,” I told the bartender. He was used to seeing me in there every afternoon, but he always made some generic comment about my drinking habits, and I always had a generic retort. He handed me a drink and I sat there hanging my heavy head, taking sips whenever I needed my thoughts to quiet down.
It wasn’t long before a beautiful red-headed woman took a seat right next to me and ordered a glass of wine. I thought it was classy to order wine in the middle of the day, so I immediately took an interest in her. My stomach clawed at me as I thought about throwing her a charming line, but I ignored the warning and tossed one out anyway.
“You come here often?” Charming, right?
“Uh…” She glanced over and smiled at the bartender, as if they were exchanging secrets about me silently. “Probably not as often as you,” she replied.
I leaned in a little closer, my head already teetering from the alcohol.
“Why don’t you tell me your name?” It was an innocent question.
She leaned away from me and her top lip drew back as her nose crinkled up.
“Why don’t you find someone else to harass?” she said as she picked up her glass and quickly walked away.
“Tease!” I called out over my shoulder.
“Smooth, buddy,” the bartender said as he took my fourth empty glass away.
“Hey…” I said as I stood up and wobbled back and forth on my feet a little.
“…Put it on my tab, huh?” I added as I staggered away — but that just couldn’t be the end of it.
“Hey, bud!” the bartender yelled. “No way, man, your tab is too high. You either pay or you don’t come back!”
I stopped and tried to remember if I had any money left, but I had drained my last ten bucks.
“Fine! Screw you, huh? You got a problem?” I yelled incoherently. I stumbled out of the bar and back into the casino.
It took me a while to make it to the bathroom. I don’t quite remember how I got there, but it probably involved a lot of falling down. I pushed the door to the washrooms open, and the people inside gave me a wide birth as I trudged past them. By the time I reached the sink, the room was empty.
The water I splashed on my face was cold, it woke me up and cleared some of the fog. I put some water in my hair to try and tame down the oily brown curls, but it just made me look greasier. As I stood in the mirror and regarded myself, I tried to imagine what I might look like if I had been dealt a better hand in life. Maybe I’d be 15 pounds lighter, my hair wouldn’t do the weird cowlick thing in the front, perhaps I’d be able to grow a full beard. Unfortunately, I was stuck with myself the way I was — soft and patchy. I think I must have been looking at myself for a long time, because a man came up behind me and asked if I was alright.
“Yeah, I’m totally good. Fully.” I nodded and leaned forward on the sink, the world spinning in front of my eyes.
He nodded back and gave me one of those smirks where the guy rolls this eyes and it automatically makes you want to punch his face.
“No, really, I’m good,” I repeated.
The man nodded again, his lips still askew in their loose smirk.
“You’re lookin’ like you could use a kiss from Lady Luck,” the man suggested.
It was just one of those things tourists said to try and be cute.
“Yeah, don’t we all, huh?” I said as I turned and stumbled for the exit door.
“Do you always walk away from opportunity?” he asked. His voice was strangely smooth in my ears, compelling like the feeling of velvet under your finger tips. I stopped and turned around.
“What opportunity?” I asked.
His smirk stretched into a grin and his ivory-white teeth shone against the chocolate colour of his skin. He stood there, his back hunched, as he stroked his grey goatee and looked me over.
“Yeah, ya’ know, you look like the kind of fella who could really use a hand.” He nodded to himself and straightened his straw fedora.
I must have made a face because he chuckled at me.
“I don’t need hand-outs…” My voice wavered a bit, but I was just tired and drunk.
“Nothing in life is really free, now is it, son?” he said as he walked up to me and slung his arm around my shoulder.
“I guess,” I answered.
He dug a slender hand into the pocket of his coat and handed me a piece of lined paper with an address scrolled in smudged pencil.
“You find me if you change your mind.”
I took the paper in my fingers and stared at it with unsteady vision for a long time, when I looked up he had already left.
“That’s lady luck?”
The woman sitting in the little chipped rocking chair stared into space with glazed eyes. Her faded purple hair was curled up off her neck and ears, and her skin was a sallow colour. There were tubes that ran into her nose, and they connected to a canister by her feet, but they didn’t seem to get in the way when she brought her cigarette to her lips.
“Doesn’t she look lucky?” Jim asked. He seemed pleased that he was able to lure me to this tiny, smoke filled apartment in the suburbs. It kind of wigged me out.
“I guess…” I conceded.
“Well, son, you wanna kiss lady luck? You gotta tell ‘er what makes you so unlucky.”
“Uh…” I adjusted the open collar on my sweat stained button up. My hands felt a little clammy and the smoke in the room tickled my lungs, so I coughed lightly to buy myself some time to think.
“Well, my job kinda sucks. Women don’t really notice me either, I guess. My family lives in LA, but they’re assholes, so I don’t really mind. Maybe it would be nice to catch a break, I feel like everyone is always doing better than me.”
Jim nodded and smiled knowingly. The part of his eyes that were supposed to be white were stained yellow, and his irises were dark enough that they seemed black in the dim light of the small apartment. They glittered in the shadow of his brow and I shivered a little as a draft traveled up my arms.
“Go ahead then, son, give ‘er a kiss.”
I pursed my lips a little and pulled my eyebrows over my nose, trying to assess if he was joking. Turns out he really did want me to kiss the old lady. It was sort of like kissing a really soft, warm prune. My stomach clenched as I pressed my lips into her un-moving mouth, and I stood up quickly like I’d been shocked with static. I rubbed frantically at my tingling lips.
Jim chuckled loudly at me again.
“You’re a good sport, huh, kid?”
“Or a sucker.” I continued to wipe my lips.
Jim laughed at me one more time and waved my comment away.
“A’right, now get out of here, it’s Lucky’s nap time.”
I nodded and shoved my hands in my pockets, then left without saying thank you.
I stepped into the heat of the evening knowing that I had been taken for a ride. As I walked down the street I tried to feel myself out, sense a difference in my body or my mind, but there was nothing to sense except my painful sunburn and aching feet. That old guy just wanted to prank me, play like he was going to help me so he could get a kick. I figured old people didn’t have a lot going on in their lives, and I could relate, so I tried to let it go and crossed the street.
That was when I heard the screech of tires. My eyes darted to my right and shot wide open as I took in the sight of a taxi not an inch from taking me out. My heart jumped into my throat and I almost spewed it out my mouth. My breathing was ragged as I rushed back to the sidewalk, and I looked at the guy incredulously.
“What’s your problem, asshole?”
“Sorry, friend, I didn’t see you.” He had a cellphone in his hand as he leaned out his window.
“You’re looking for a lawsuit, huh, pal? What’s your cab number, buddy?” I started circling his car trying to find the digits, leaning in close to make sure he saw me.
He got out of the car so fast it rocked back and forth under his weight. It was mere seconds before he was at my side.
“Please, my friend, do not call the company. I will take you anywhere you want to go for free. Please!”
It didn’t take long for me to feel comforted by his offer, and a smile crossed my lips for the first time that day.
“Sure, pal, just be careful, huh?” I rounded the car and climbed into the passenger seat.
A text woke me up the next morning, it was from my boss. He told me that my shift had been double booked, and I could take the day off if I wanted. I immediately accepted the offer and did not look back, which allowed me to sleep in until my preferred hour of 12 noon or later. That afternoon, as I left my apartment and entered the feverish heat of the day, a little green square of paper caught my eye. It was snagged between the loops of chain link fence that surrounded my 5 story walk up apartment, and I immediately I swooped down on that 50 bones like a hawk. The tips of my fingers practically tingled as my eyes groped across the surface of the bill. 50 whole big ones — my day couldn’t get any better.
At the casino, everything seemed a lot brighter than it had the day before. The lights were more vibrant, colors were richer, people seemed more lively, and women looked more beautiful. The noise of the casino wasn’t deafening like the day before, now it sounded powerful and brilliant. Each person who passed me seemed to tip their head and grin like they knew I was worth something, and when I sat down at the slot machine with my quarters, my fingers shivered with electricity. As I slipped one of my gleaming silver coins into the slot machine, my heart began to race, but I didn’t know why.
When the jackpot sirens rang, the adrenaline nearly kicked me out of my own skin. My grin was so wide I think my cheeks still sometimes hurt because of it. People crowded around, some clapping and some patting my back, and two women walked right up and put their arms around me. Luckily I had remembered to put on deodorant that morning, and they each smiled at me with practically no disgust. As the sirens continued to sound out, announcing my winnings, I felt light headed. It didn’t feel real. In that moment I had gone from having 50 dollars to my name, to over 200,000 in the bank. Everything in the room was overwhelming and the numbers spun in front of my eyes. I covered my face and grinned into my palms, trying to contain the laughter that was bubbling up from inside my stomach. Nothing had ever felt so good.
That night I did everything I could to spend as much money as possible. Turns out, having a lot of cash makes you a lot more popular than having a lot of sass. Which was great because before that all I had was sass and pretty much nothing else. Now I had thousands of dollars, women wanted to spend time with me, and everyone was my best friend.
I woke up beside two women that I didn’t remember meeting. And after all three of us had showered, they took me to the salon and helped me find a hair style that suited my new wealth. They brought me to a boutique where they styled me to perfection, and when we left, my wrists were glinting with gold and my style was sharp enough to cut.
“Where are we going now?” One of the women - the blonde I think - asked as we walked down the street.
“Back to the casino, obviously.” If I was going to start getting lucky, I was going to make the most of it. “Time to clean out the cage, as they say.” I laughed gleefully and tossed an arm around each girl’s shoulders. As we passed one of the smaller hotels, we saw a young kid getting pummeled in the shadow of an alley.
“Poor kid.” One of the girls commented.
My laughter slowly died out and I lazily glanced over at the kid just as the kid got his face rearranged by an incoming fist. I considered stopping to help him, but I had just gotten myself all fixed up, and it felt like a shame to ruin it. Of course I could have taken the guy if I wanted to, I just didn’t want to.
“Ah, kids gotta learn some time, huh, babe?” We kept walking.
As the three of us sailed on by, I was struck with the sight of a woman at the end of the street. She stood in the dead center of the sidewalk ahead of us and stared directly at me. Her magnetic grey eyes forced my focus onto her, and her gaze bore through me. Even as her electric purple hair blew into her face, she did not move, only followed me with her eyes. I stared intently at her as I walked by with my new eye candy, and our eyes never left each other until I passed behind a corner and lost sight. I remember shivering deep in the pit of my stomach, as if my insides were warning me. But after all the luck I’d had, I payed no attention to any feeling beside pleasure. And as soon as she was gone, I did my best to forget about her.
The next night, as I stood outside one of the swankiest hotels I could find, I chatted up a couple of women that had just flown in from Canada. I was looking fly as ever, and made sure to flash my designer cuff-links as I adjusted my sleeves.
“There are a ton of great bars here, ladies, I can show you, if you like. Introduce you to some of the high rollers in this town — namely me.” I cracked my most charming grin and ran a hand through my hair endearingly.
The women giggled together for a moment, and it seemed like they were about to accept my invitation, but I could hear someone shouting behind me, and it was loud enough to cause distraction. The sporty brunette that I had been talking to leaned around me to catch an eyeful of what was happening, which prompted me to turn around and look myself.
“It’s not here, it’s just not here!” The woman was yelling. “If I don’t have that, how am I supposed to get home? How can I pay for my hotel? Who steals a wallet from someone in an airport? I can’t believe this…” She continued on like that for many long minutes.
“So, are you gonna show us around?” The brunette said flirtatiously, once she got bored of eavesdropping.
“Uh…” I turned and looked back at the lady, who was still red faced and yelling, and then I turned back.
“Yeah, absolutely.” I said with a grin. I couldn’t miss a chance to get to know this amazing girl, right? I couldn’t remember her name, but I could already tell she was really special. Beside that, I was sure the yelling lady had someone she could call to help her out, so I guided the girls away from the scene and down toward the strip.
As we stepped off the hotel property and onto the sidewalk, my eyes were immediately drawn to her. The girl with the purple hair was standing across the road, unmoving as ever, with her eyes locked on me. I got a strange feeling then, like a murmur inside my stomach that traveled up into my throat and made my chest quiver. I think I began to tremble, because the girls looked at me, and then exchanged looks with each other. I could tell they wondering if I was on drugs.
“Can we walk a little faster, huh?” I said as I placed my hand on the small of both their backs and rushed them onward. I could feel the purple haired girl’s eyes pressing into my sensitive flesh like hot pokers as I fled. I didn’t stop and I didn’t look back.
The next night, I was walking down the strip, looking in every passing window at my swanky new appearance and feeling confident as ever. Admittedly, it felt good to have money to draw people to me. Ever since I had kissed Lady Luck, my life had been nothing but gravy. That kind of change can really make a guy feel like a winner, and I was on top of the world. Just as I was about to duck into one of the clubs to find myself a new honey for the evening, a young man stopped me on my way.
“Hey, sorry…” He said nervously. “I was wondering if you could spare some change, please, sir.”
I was immediately taken aback by his polite demeanor, so I stopped and looked him over. Ragged pants, oily hair, sweat stained polo, shoes with holes; something about him made my stomach clench. The way his eyes focused desperately on me gave me a strange kind of deja vu. I’d seen this guy somewhere before.
“Some change?” I could smell his body odour and I wanted to turn away.
Right that moment, in my mind’s eye, I saw a flash of her, the purple haired girl. The clench in my stomach became tighter.
“…Here.” I dug a hand into my pocket and handed him a $100 dollar bill. “Clean yourself up.” As I opened the door to the club I could hear him thanking me profusely. I looked back for a moment only to see his eyes welled up with tears, and then I turned and hurried away.
When I sat down at the bar I had a strange feeling inside me. I almost I felt lighter, but there was something else I couldn’t put my finger on. I sat at the bar and did not order a drink, I just sat and thought about the exact moment I handed the $100 to that guy. It wasn’t a ground breaking thing to give someone in need a bit of money, I saw people tossing singles and fivers into beggar’s cups every day in the bad parts of town. But something about helping that guy still gave me a bubbling feeling in my stomach, like there was something inside me that wanted to express itself as laughter. More than that, I had a feeling of weightless plenitude inside my chest, like I was full in a spot that had once been empty.
“Hey, dude, you gonna order something?” the bartender asked.
I shook my head and placed another 100 dollar bill on the counter.
“No, thanks.” I said as I stood up and walked away.
As I moseyed down the strip with my hands in my pockets, I thought about how I had been spending my windfall. Up until that night, no matter how much money I spent, or how many women I slept with, I always wanted more in the morning. But in that moment, as I sauntered down the strip in the warm night air, I didn’t feel like drinking, or hooking up with a beautiful woman, I just felt like smiling.
I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and looked at the people milling about as I pulled a couple of clips of money from my pocket. Before I had thought too much about it, I began to toss bills in the air with the same reckless abandon I had used when I tossed nudie cards around only days before. It didn’t take long before people realized what I was doing, and it was only minutes before people were crowded around, picking up as many 50’s and 100’s as they could get their fingers on. It took some time for me to realize that, as I tossed my bills around like a leprechaun with lucky charms, I was laughing and skipping and yelling to people on the road.
“Come and get it!” My joyous laughter must have escaped as a bizarre, ecstatic howl, because everyone around me began to laugh and stare like I was out of my mind.
Later, as I lay down on a park bench, breathless with a foolish ear to ear grin, my head spun and I could barely sit up. I felt like I was vibrating, and my tired body felt heavy, yet weightless the way it does after a good orgasm. Maybe I had changed some lives that day, given a second chance to someone who really needed it. Or maybe I had just fueled someone’s shopping spree, and my money was going right back where it came from. It didn’t matter, no matter how I looked at it I felt full to bursting. I’d never felt like this before, I had never done anything like this before, I had never had anything to give before. That’s when she showed up.
“I guess you weren’t a waste after all,” the purple haired girl said as she shoved my legs off the bench and took a seat next to me.
I nearly slid off, but I caught and up-righted myself at the last second.
“It’s you — you’ve been following me!” I think I probably still had a stupid grin on my face, because she looked at me like I was one of those happy drunks who are always telling people they love them.
“I’ve been watching you to make sure I didn’t waste my time.”
“Waste your time?”
I stared at her without saying anything as my brain tried to process what she was saying. It was hard, my brain buzzed.
“When you kissed me, I thought maybe I’d chosen the wrong guy. Looks like Jimmy’s still got the eye.”
I remember things started to make more sense after that.
“Are you…?” I trailed off.
“I mean, are you?”
She leaned against the back of the bench and looked up toward the crystal clear moon. Her milky white skin and pale grey eyes looked translucent in the moonlight, and her fine features were perfect, delicate, and young. She looked nothing like that strange old woman I had kissed.
“You know who I am.”
As she vaguely confirmed my suspicions, my eyes welled up with what I think was probably gratitude.
“I feel like I want to hug you.” My voice wavered.
“Don’t push your luck.” She replied with a humorous grin.
I chuckled and leaned back against the bench to match her easy posture.
“I’m proud of you.” She told me.
No one had ever said they were proud of me before.
“For what?” I asked.
“You keep doing what you’re doing.” She stated, as if that answered my question.
“Oh.” I thought about what she said as my eyes traveled up to meet the sight of a few bright stars hanging scattered in the late night sky. As I looked at them, focusing on the flickering dots of light, I felt like I was one of them — bright and important. I sat there in silence with her for a minute or two before I decided how to say it.
“I never thanked you for helping me…”
When I looked over, my eyes just a little damp with emotion, she was gone. In the distance, the moonlight illuminated two figures — a man in dark clothing, hunched as he slowly pushed the second in a wheelchair. Lady Luck’s faded lavender hair looked silver in the white light of midnight, and as she was wheeled away, I wondered if I’d ever see her again.