Barney F. (not his real name) (I think) Wright (I think that one’s right) was handing out peanuts in small cups to anyone who came all the way up the garden stairs to the shaded bar on the white marble porch. For some doing something so menial and actually meaningless he seemed unusually bright, even clever. With each styrofoam cup he’d hand out an easy smile and a glimmer of sophistication as well, his patter both natural and amusing at the same time. I stood in a short line of short people, all in bathing attire, waiting for my precious handout of goobers in a cup. A waiter placed a drink in my hand while I waited. He said not one word, I suppose, because it would interfere with the chatter emanating from Barney F.
"Looking like a butterfly," I heard him say sotto voce to a woman in her sixties in a suit that emphasized all of her bulges and cellulite, "whose wings have been clipped by some nasty little boy. Good to see you, sweetie." We all moved forward one place.
"Albert, where have you been all my morning?" He kissed what I supposed was an old friend. "Oh, sorry," he continued, "you’re Armand, aren’t you. Well, keep the kiss, honey." We moved again. I was much closer now, only one more person stood between us.
"Francesca," he sang the name out like it was the opening phrase from some opera, and amazingly the man he addressed didn’t seem to mind. "Tuesday, my place, midnight, and bring a loaf of rye bread!" They both laughed at what I recognized as an old Jimmy Durante line from the movies. They hugged and Francesca, or I assume Frank, moved off leaving me next to receive something other than peanuts from Barney F.
"Here you go," he said simply. "Enjoy. They go well with that Stinger," he said referring, I hoped, to the drink.
"Thanks." I paused, waiting for my personal "line." There was nothing else said and I stood there awkwardly. Finally I reached for his hand and introduced myself.
"I’m Mitchell..." I paused... "Anderssen. A friend of Sanja’s."
"Enjoy your nuts," he said, without looking at me. "I would," he said with a smile. I moved away pretty quickly at that, not sure what was actually said or actually meant. He was odd, strange. I was uncomfortable and unsure of myself. I suddenly felt very out of place in my striped shirt and skimpy bathing suit. I wanted to go somwhere else and go there quickly.
I moved back down the stairs, back toward Delly’s pool. I was actually backing away, something I’d read about and seen in a Grace Kelly movie once, but also something I’d never done before. It was an odd perspective, to see so clearly where I’d been and have no concept of where I was heading. I think my jaw was slack; air rushed between my teeth, an awkward feeling at best. I didn’t stop, couldn’t stop, and then I did stop when two hands unexpectedly braced me from behind. One was between my shoulder blades and the other one, the left one, I think, caught me by the seat of my non-existent pants.
"I beg your pardon," I stammered to my unseen savior. "I..."
"You’re with Sanja, aren’t you?" his voice came from behind me. "Let me escort you back to her." He took me gently by the arm and guided me in a different direction, not where I’d been going, and certainly not toward the man whose words had sent me staggering backward down that precarious flight of marble steps. I wanted to say thank you, but the words weren’t coming. I was still that flabbergasted.
"Feeling flabbergasted?" my guide inquired. "Don’t worry. Everyone does the first time they meet Barney F." (I think he said Barney F. I think that’s where I heard that name; it was Sanja who told me his last name was Wright, if I’m right about that.)
"I..." there was no place to go with that word as the opener of a sentence. "He is very direct. Most peculiar."
"Yes, to both those things."
"Thank you for your help," I finally managed to say. Sanja was there before us, lying across a large brass-colored towel along the pathway that ran around the pool.
"First time in Vegas?"
"You’ll get used to it...eventually. We all have."
"You’re not from here?"
"I doubt there’s anyone here who was born here. People are born here, but we don’t usually meet them. That’s the nice thing about a transient city," he smiled as he said this, "you never have to suffer too long with any one person. Someone new is always on the horizon."
I sat down and took a breath and shut my mouth. The cup with the peanuts was still clutched in my hand and the glass with my drink, the Stinger, was empty. I looked at it for a moment, uncomprehending.
"No," he laughed. "You didn’t drink it. Most of it is at the base of the staricase over there."
I laughed also, relieved that I hadn’t, at some point I couldn’t recall, downed all that liquor in some furtive single swoop.
"I’ll get you another," he said. "Or perhaps some iced tea instead?"
"I am a bit dry," I choked out.
"It happens out here. You must drink constantly to keep refreshed, to keep from dehydrating. We all do it."
"How awful," I said without thinking.
"It’s fine, really. We’re used to it."
I held out my hand to shake his own and he handed it to me.
"Thank you," I said. "I’m Mitchell Anderssen."
"Well, thank you," he responded. "I’m Delly Delaney. Your host."
He shook my hand once, smiled kindly, then put my hand in my own lap gently and firmly.
"You wait right here, Mitch," he said, "and I’ll get you something to clear that brain of yours. You’ll see. In a half hour or so you’ll be acclimated and you’ll be just fine."
That was all it took. I was a foolish 72 year old man. I was sort of in love.