A single dollar bill, shredded and stuffed into a tiny bottle with a real cork stopper. I thought that was illegal - destroying US currency. I thought doing that would be cause for arrest, for prosecution, for sentencing and prison. Still, they sell them as souvenirs at the airport, government controlled places like liquor stores and duty-free shops. You can tell without opening, without touching the fragments that this was once a real dollar. The heft of the paper, the colors of the ink, it’s all just so right. And they sell them out in the open and charge you $6 for a one dollar bill shredded and stuffed into a container that isn’t worth more then five cents with a two-cent cork. Even so it’s a bargain when you’ve just lost your shirt in the casino that morning. At least you come home with a buck.
I was standing at the roulette table this morning thinking about all the people I’ve known as I bet the roll on red. I was trying to remember them all and I’d been tempted to split the bet - red, black - but that wasn’t a gamble and I was here to gamble. I’d been gambling all week, though not in the casino and not with money, so this last-ditch effort to achieve something needed to continue that process of high-risk-taking. So, all of it on red. My suitcase was jammed between my ankles and the croupier knew it. He knew I’d removed the whole roll of bills from my pocket, removed the rubber band and laid it out on red. He reached for it, counted it, took off two twenties and handed them back to me.
"For the cab," he said. "And a sandwich."
I nodded to him, put the two bills into my shirt pocket, alongside the sawbuck I’d already saved and watched the wheel spin. I crossed the first two fingers of my left hand, held behind my back, and watched. And waited. And pressed those fingers tightly behind my back. And watched as the wheel slowed and the ball ran counter to it, bounced, plunked into a pocket, bounced again, rolled and then fell deep and hard into a number. I never saw the number. I only heard the croupier say black. I picked up my bag and backed away from the table. It was done.
In the taxi, my bag held close to my chest, pressed into it by arms I couldn’t identify as my own, I tried to whistle but my mouth was too dry. I could see the driver looking at me suspiciously through the rear-view mirror. I gave him a smile. He continued to stare. I stuck out my tongue at him and his eyes moved back to the crowded street. When, an hour later, they called my plane and I moved forward, the small bottle with the shredded buck in it clutched in my right hand, I thought about those eyes and my tongue and I wished I had learned his name. But even that was done. Names, it seemed, were over.
I think I’ve forgotten the names of more people I’ve known than I’ve actually known. People are my commodity, you see. I collect them, buy them, sell them. I deal in people: not in populations but individuals. In individuals. Hard to say that with a straight face, that repetition of syllables. It smacks of stutter without music to grace it. Faces dance through my memory but the names that should attach to them are, mostly, long since lost. Now and again a connection gets made and I breathe a hasty "Fred" or "Aunt Stella" or something. More often the face foxtrots on by or waltzes around for a moment or two, then disappears. I react to it with a visceral response: I smile or frown or feel a tug somewhere within my body; now and then my heart hurts or my stomach tightens or my legs stiffen. When the name comes along, usually a beat or two behind the face, then it’s different. Then the internal reply is loud and strong and almost always painful. Yet that was what I longed for more than anything else, the pain of a blatant, blaring memory, the combination of sight and sound and smell and taste and word and thought and thrust of some long-lost event. I cursed the illness called "living" that kept me from knowing more of my own past. Living forward in time kept the past at bay and I hated that.
Most hated of all was the special knowledge that as I grow older more of those names will leave me and at the same time more of those faces will haunt my days and nights. That separation of knowledge, visual and oral torn apart by the process of age, would continue unabated and I would suffer harder, longer, more. So when Sanja called and said "COME VISIT" in her shouted, phone-voice mode I knew I would. I booked a plane seat, packed a bag, locked the door of the house I hoped I’d remember in ten days time and headed west to Las Vegas. I had throw-away underwear and socks, aimed to lighten my load physically as my mind was unloading itself. I brought old shirts and jeans to wear and either discard or bring back with me, I didn’t care which. I packed two novels I had wanted to read when I purchased them, but had forgotten to put on the "to read" shelf. I spotted them on the floor, behind the sofa when I went to vacuum there before I took my trip. Opportunity knocked and I did what I should do, packed the books for reading and continued cleaning. I emptied the loose change from all of my pockets as I packed all this. I ended up with sixteen dollars and eleven cents in assorted quarters, nickels and pennies. Not one dime. Odd, I thought. Then I took it all to the bank and had it converted into greenbacks, closed out one savings account that was beginning to cost me more in fees than I achieved in interest and drove to the airport. The gamble was on.
* End of Part One *
Continue reading at Las Vegas, 2 (find link in left-hand column above)