An hour passed. I sat in the quiet of my office and ordered a bus ticket.

Within two hours I was dragging my suitcase down a street that paralleled Interstate 15. I walked past Palace Station where OJ was caught and thrown in the slammer. I turned east on Sahara Avenue and made my way through the hundred-degree heat over the freeway. The Sahara Hotel loomed in front of me. I’d stayed there for several days when I moved back to Las Vegas. Then I was at John’s house, living in his spare room. Now here I was walking back to the Sahara, pulling my suitcase along a dirty street and looking down at piles of broken glass on industrial rooftops.

That night I sat on the edge of my bed and stared toward the window as darkness flickered with casino lights and hummed with the monorail’s monotone singing.

In the morning I packed my suitcase for the last time. I walked out of my room. No hint of remorse for having quit my job. I simply began my journey as some journeys begin—an invisible string tugged my ass along.

The elevator had a musty odor. The doors opened and I passed the Sports Book and the lobby. The casino was nearly empty. In a few corners sat sleepy drunks. They streamed money into machines. Just a little slower than usual. Rusted automatons.

Outside, an endless sidewalk stretched along a horizon of heat. I started walking and stopped at the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas boulevards. The air was hot. I wore a black backpack that I’d stuffed with my laptop and clothes and dragged a black suitcase that looked like an old pregnant Labrador about to spew a giant litter of cloth puppies. It sagged, but I had a good hold of its flimsy plastic handle.

About that time the transient came.

God said his angels are all around us. They look like people. For all I know street performers are a breed of angels meant to watch us when pretending they’re desperate to be seen. They stuff their big feathery wings into jeans pockets. They tuck ripples of pink-skinned wing muscle, all feathery and silky into raincoats and cloaks, and, though they may be a little below us, carry invisible swords and magical timepieces that compress our paths into mere moments.

Those are the holy jugglers and poet rappers of the Word. The men of sleight of hand flashing jokers, and ministering minstrels with guitar cases open like bloody mouths eating dollars. They are the homeless locust eaters watching us come and go and breathing on us their angels’ breath and God light.

Before the light could change there came the transient talking up a storm. Talking fast. “You’re going somewhere special,” he said. “You’re going somewhere special with bags like those! Hot enough for you? I’m going to see destiny. She’s this way,” he said.

He stepped into the street before the light could change. He looked sun-worn and carried a bag of plastic bottles. His eyes were wild with uncertainty and the cosmic insanity that fills the universe at such moments in the desert. His clothes were urban, old; they fit him like a sloppy dishrag sliced to fit with a dirty butcher’s knife.

My destination was the bus station downtown on Main Street next to the Plaza Hotel. It was the dirtiest place I’d seen in Vegas, with its broken down restroom and shit-coated urinals corralled by strands of yellow tape.

My shoulder was already sore just dragging my life to the corner. Already forgetting about the transient, I stepped into the crosswalk just as the light changed. I crossed Sahara and gazed through car windows at empty morning faces. I looked up at a boarded casino dressed in black awnings. Just past that I saw the Stratosphere Tower. There flew a helicopter, while down on the street a motorcycle with a big moustache riding it roared past. I saw security guards wandering to work. I saw druggies hard up for the question of life to smack them in a fix of morning clarity.

Across the Sahara I made my way down the long snake of Las Vegas Boulevard. I yanked my bag along, which flipped over more than once as I dragged it. I barely missed the toes of bus riders waiting on shaded benches. Hard faces stared into the heat, past me and my bags. Some looked up at the Stratosphere Tower, at its moving amusement park machinery more than a thousand feet above them.

Further along I stopped to rest at an abandoned swimming pool. I snapped a photo and went on my way. My hand and shoulder ached as I walked up and down parking lot driveways and street curbs. Near one casino, the same transient sat on a small cement ledge. If he had angel wings I couldn’t even see a ridge of feathers beneath his shirt. He grinned at me and watched me pass into the heat. I finally took a longer rest by a wedding chapel, only to be passed again by the giggling transient. He rattled his bag of bottles and laughed as if spooking some ghost he saw inside of me.

Abandoned pool on Las Vegas Boulevard taken on day I quit job.

I didn’t have any water and didn’t want to sit in the bright light. So I continued on the sun-baked sidewalk. I reached Charleston Boulevard and crossed it, heading into the old Huntridge District. I cut along streets, and passed through a transient park where bodies littered benches in multi-colored rags, and carts made their slow way, pushed by dirty hands. One group of transients sat against a wall by a fountain. Even in the heat they wore heaps of clothes. Their innermost layers, I imagined, were fused to cracked and caked lesion-covered wings, and to scabs where needles had burnt pools of coagulated blood onto drug-hot arms.

I dragged my bags slowly through, looking to see if the transient from outside the Sahara had made his way here. I looked to see if he was dancing a jig, or had miraculously transformed old plastic bottles into a puppet show of tales of the Vegas underworld: dancing demon can-can 7-Up mermaids, Coca-Cola devils of casino executives, big boss radio Fanta clowns with explosive-painted faces and forked tongues riding a carousel of Papa Johns pizza boxes and McDonalds fast-food toys—all lit on fire from the burning desert slot machine handles pulling reels of endless flames.

Several streets further, outside a Bank of America, my mouth was parched. I had nothing to drink so I just licked my lips and headed up some steps to where I pulled some of my last cash from an ATM. Heading back toward the street, I saw one of the most lonely of women and so smiled at her, the Queen of the Sin City Transients. I’d seen her many times before as she sat on a bench like it was her throne. Surrounding her were bags of food from trashcans, generous well wishers and back alley refuse piles. She was plump, rosy-cheeked and had the brittle hair of a sunburnt aged maiden of fire. She held a carton of soup and drank deeply as pigeons wandered past her feet. Piles of blankets and a cart sat nearby. I was a sweaty mess as I passed. I looked over but she ignored me, except through the farthest corners of her eyes, as little girls do.

I looked back, half expecting my transient friend to be there bowing at her feet and rattling his bag of bottles. I imagined a cloud of fire springing up at her feet, orange reflecting in her once shadowy black eyes, and her waving a wand, casting demons into the desert and demands to be carried out at midnight by fallen angels.

The bus station was close. I scooted on a sidestreet to Fitzgerald’s Casino, where years before I watched green-haired old ladies laugh and spin penny slots. Now the penny machines were even more gimmick-plagued. Their seats were filled with anxiety-ridden souls. It was a New World casino order, where penny slots tricked old ladies out of hundreds of dollars rather than the mere ten bucks they were used to losing. Those days of free martinis and enough cash left over to get a new green wig had gone.

Now I walked among a new generation of forlorn faces. With them I finally sat dehydrated and thankful. I ate at a McDonalds with a blank stare before eventually making my way to find brief refuge in the Plaza Hotel. There, I sat on a bench and changed my shoes and socks and prepared myself for the bus ride to California.

*This piece was written entirely on an iPhone

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NICK BELARDES is illustrator of NYT Best-Selling Novel by Jonathan Evison West of Here (2011), author of Random Obsessions (2009), Lords (2005), and the first literary Twitter novel: Small Places (2010). An author, poet, and screenwriter for Hectic Films, Belardes turned TV/online journalist overnight after blogging his way to success. His articles and essays have appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites across America. You can find Nick on Facebook and Twitter.

187 responses to “Across The Sahara”

  1. Nice one brother Nick. Never stop writing, even if you are forced to do it on a iPhone. Not sure how you can do that, but hats off to ya. I always like the Vegas stories. They walk like Kerouac and quack like Bukowski, minus the booze.

  2. Sara says:

    Great writing as usual, Nick–puts the reader right there, gives them the slice of life you are experiencing, with colorful prose, as only you and a very few others can do it. -(;-}o>

    • Thank you, Sara. I always strive for excellence, though I think you are giving me way more credit than is due. I might have one more Vegas story. Maybe. The bus station was a colorful place!

      • Sara says:

        Yeah, I used to like to sit in airports and bus stations a lot and just watch people, mainly while I was waiting for an overdue arrival. I have penned some stories about some actual bus rides I was on (now, where ARE they?). Vegas is not NYC, of course, but sometimes your Vegas stories remind me of Travis Bickle. I mean that in a GOOD way, now, so please don’t take offense.

        • I don’t take offense at all. Kerouac, Bukowski, Bickle. Heck, I’ll take being compared to the crazy on the street corner. I have a diary somewhere that I wrote in while traveling across America. Red sunsets over Texas. Border Patrol raiding the bus in El Paso. Fistfights in Arizonan mornings. A midnight walk through Abeline…

  3. DJimiO says:

    Another one knocked out of the park! Brings to mind some of the more lucid moments in Burroughs. Although, I’m pretty sure if God WERE sending angels among us, they’d avoid Vegas. 😉

  4. Great piece! Especially loved you puppet tales of the Vegas underworld.

    “dancing demon can-can 7-Up mermaids, Coca-Cola devils of casino executives, big boss radio Fanta clowns with explosive-painted faces and forked tongues riding a carousel of Papa Johns pizza boxes and McDonalds fast-food toys—all lit on fire from the burning desert slot machine handles pulling reels of endless flames.”

    Fun stuff!

    • Fun and demented. I think I was in the sun too long that day. Walking a mile with all those bags made me almost go jump into that empty pool and just start swimming crazily…

      Thanks for reading, Joanne. It’s been so long since I posted anything worth a comment.

  5. Love, love, love this line: My shoulder was already sore just dragging my life to the corner.
    A really great read, Nick. Vegas is a place like no other — and you have have nailed it.
    And can I just WOW to the writing on an iPhone? I HATE my husband’s iPhone because it makes me feel like I have fat finger pads… and you know what? Of all the things that could feel fat, finger pads shouldn’t be one of them. If I was doing this on an iPhone you’d still be waiting for me to type the first sentence. And you’d NEVER get a comment. NEVER.

    • I think my shoulder still hurts from that day.

      I don’t know why I ever thought I could move back after living there once. Dumb on my part. Got some good writing material out of it.

      As a result of my “Cellrunner” piece on iPhone writing and stealing juice, a few colleges now talk about it. So it kind of pays off letting people know it can be done. Maybe a few more nimble-finger kids will start writing novels on their mobile devices/iphones/droids.

      I had to read twice the phrase “fat finger pads.” For a second there I thought you were saying you had fat fingers. And what woman would admit to that?!

  6. Tom Hansen says:

    Wow very nice Nick. Vivid and poetic descriptions, and thank you for writing about the darker side of Vegas

    • You’re welcome, Tom. And thanks for your comment and reading. Vegas only has a dark side when I look at it. I’m probably a little too bitter though from my dad having been a truck driver and dying on a freeway right in the middle of the city…

      • Tom Hansen says:

        Used to be Vegas was the suicide capital of the US. They kept it very hush hush so as not to scare away tourists, but many a father in financial trouble died in a Vegas motel after blowing all his dough misguidedly trying to make a better life for him and his

        • I remember a few suicides that I knew about that weren’t in the news. Then there was the guy who dressed like a pirate and jumped off the Stratosphere sometime around 2000. It wasn’t in Vegas news but made the Drudgereport for about an hour before it was pulled and disappeared…

  7. This is like a Homeric epic in miniature. This is great! The descriptions, the characters you meet along your dusty journey as you pull your life along with you. And I love that photo. I want a print of it. To hang on my wall. Seriously. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always loved the aesthetic of an emptied-out pool.

    • Thanks Cynthia. I’ll email it to you. I remember my shoulder was sore and so I needed a rest. I saw the pool and snapped away. Just one photo on my iPhone. Others from that day I used in a previous story on TNB. I think I have several more I never posted from that walk: a neon sign that blinked and said WELCOME TO LOST VEGAS, a wedding chapel, artwork in a window, Fremont Street near the end of my journey, and Elvis posters in a window. But nothing said it like that pool. It was like I was. Thirsty, hungry, angry, tired.

      Maybe empty pools makes you want to pull out some badass skateboard jumps!

  8. Angela Tung says:

    really liked this. i admire writing that can take just a few moments and turn it into a narrative with an arc and unforgettable characters. you’re really good at that, and it’s something i aspire to.

    • You can’t say that, Angela, because I’m the one who aspires to your writing. Crud. We’ll be in this never ending circle of trying to write like each other… I’ll never forget that transient guy. I swear he was an angel. Thank you for your kind words. I had written this months ago. I was having my usual off-color conversation with Reno and decided I needed to get back into the TNBsphere.

      So I re-edited the piece and chopped off the first third. It just wasn’t right. Didn’t fit the flow of the narrative arc you mention.

      I think I will post it here, just for fun’s sake:

      DELETED BEGINNING OF ‘ACROSS THE SAHARA’:

      “When you have a minute I need to talk to you,” I said into the receiver.

      John was on the other end of the phone. He was busy, probably scrawling endless tasks into a notebook. He wrote those into his Outlook calendar—a radar screen of projects all flying all above a Bermuda Triangle of radio sales at different altitudes.

      When he eventually arrived I told him I was quitting. He stared at me.

      He had himself to blame for part of my leaving the way he kept saying he wanted to quit and move back to the Central Valley. He’d sat outside on his patio late one night smoking and talking about leaving the hellish desert to the comforts of the farmlands and urban watering holes nearer to the San Joaquin and Kern rivers.

      “I almost gave up my radio job to work at Starbucks. I have to be by my family,” he’d said.

      But then, I wasn’t ready for the urban decay, the loneliness, the separation from my family. All that church before I left Bakersfield. All that talk of life on the road, hope in God, and comfort during a mighty endurance race flew out the window. My energy had wafted into casino smoke. It had been exhaled by some old desperate woman who dragged along an oxygen tank and wheezed as she cast spells onto slot machines.

      She’d gotten inside me and everyone else at Las Vegas grocery store slot machines in the middle of the night. We were all under her spell.

      None of it went over well. John’s eyes filled with something close to hate. One spark and John’s big frame might combust in a fiery grip of my throat.

      I didn’t think he would take it so bad. Just a few days before he had walked into my office and lifted his shirt, showing me his fat hairy belly and pink nipples.

      I pretended to laugh. Truth was, I suddenly realized Hell was simply a place smack in the middle of a desert with bad water, a naked fat radioman and the toxin of desert urban decay.

      Who can take the worst economy in the U.S. here in Nevada? Who can take walking down the street and seeing desperation pull up to a curb?

      “Feed my family,” one Latino woman demanded as I walked down Rainbow Boulevard.

      “We’re hungry!” yelled a little girl from the backseat.

      Why me? I was just walking along with a Starbucks and a backpack. Did I look like their savior? I was in no condition to be anyone’s salvation. I can only justify a broken family. Mine. And I was desperate to piece it together. That’s why I was there. And here was Las Vegas. Burning. Empty. Literally. And with its bankruptcy and towers to nowhere at every turn.

      Godless in my wanderings. Lost again. Faithless and cut off. I was one step from the abyss of life underground in those heroin tunnels and black widow pipes in urban blackness beneath the city. I had only succeeded in finding the washes and underground rivers pouring into caverns of my own mind.

  9. Annie Padula says:

    I love reading what you’ve written… You tricked me, and this was a treat!!! You’re brilliant. And I am so honored to be able to call you my friend!

    • I don’t know why Facebutt is such a tough crowd today. I’m thinking about handing out virtual lollipops or changing the title of this piece to “Britney Spears Weds Nick Belardes” just for a few more comments.

      Honored? I am the one who is honored. Why? Because you can ride a motorcycle!! I wish I still had my Evil Knievel doll from the ’70s. He’s badass too!

  10. DCR says:

    Nick, your stream of consciousness apparently involves a few levels. Love it. The descriptions make me want to be more aware of my own space. Love the photo, too — empty pool, empty place, empty people… and you catching it with your video mind. I have missed these! Thanks, DCR.

    • I like what you said: “be more aware of my own space.” I think that’s where people think I’m so creative but maybe I’m not. I’m just interpreting the spaces around myself. Thank you for missing me. I’ve missed your commentary.

  11. Robin says:

    Tough crowd, my friend? I’m sorry. I read this earlier, but I hadn’t left a comment because I didn’t know what to say. Still don’t. I came back to make something up.

    You know I always enjoy reading anything you write. This was an interesting piece, albeit a little scary. Guess that’s just the Vegas thing. Boy, I’m glad you made it out of Vegas alive and made it back to Bakersfield. I read your deleted piece in the comments section, too. It was interesting to read that piece of information, but it was a bit more depressing at the end of that piece than the part that you actually have posted. Still, I enjoyed reading it.

    Do me a favor and post more often, will ya?

    • Yes, tough crowd for comments today for some reason. I’m thinking my next piece needs to be some top notch comedy to pull the comment droves.

      Yeah, the first part just didn’t fit. Though it’s what really happened. It mussed up the flow of the wandering tale. I promise to post more regularly.

      What was scary about the piece to you?

  12. I see I’m not the first to mention Kerouac. But there were a couple of poetic sentences in the middle of the story that really reminded me of his style, except more to the point. A little clearer.

    Nice photo, too. Very cool.

    • Thank you, David. It’s been too long since I’ve been on here and had a nice conversation with you. There’s too much Kerouac in me at times. I’ve tried to rid myself of his haunting voice. But I guess I can’t help it. It’s a beautiful comparison, really.

      I was so angry and tired and overheated, oh and sore, when I took the photo. I’m glad it came out. It captures everything I felt at the moment. I shoved the phone in my pocket and scurried on my way.

      • It happens. Kerouac has been one of those writers who’s held too much influence over me at times. He has such a unique voice that it’s hard to break free of it at times.

        I’ve probably taken a handful of decent photos in my entire life so I’m not really sure what it feels like to properly take a good one, but I imagine it’s quiet a feeling, especially when so exhausted. Like polishing off a good piece of writing, I imagine.

        • I have an entire novel that I think is pretty good. Only problem is I need to clean up language across its 400 pages. I’ve been avoiding it for years.

          I guess with photos it goes back to having been an art major at one time. I have the lucky eye of composition. But in photos, I think the eye can be taught to an extent. Agreed: taking a great photo is a nice feeling. I posted one in my Facebook iPhone photo essay I really liked yesterday of an old man whose face you can see in great detail. We were walking past each other in a crosswalk. So it was a lucky shot.

        • I say dig back into it. It’s weird when you find your old writing and bring your new self as editor. My university writing all smacked of Kerouac and yet now I try to keep my sentences shorter, inspired by any number of other writers. I think I was happier with my writing back then, but it’s probably for the best that I’m more fussy now.

          Anyway, it may prove productive and it may prove amusing. If you have the time, get back into it.

        • I will take your advice. You’re a wise man you know.

        • Hmm… We’d all be wise men if we took our own advice.

        • I take about half of my advice. I won’t say which half. :/

  13. Erika Rae says:

    You *would* turn plastic bottles into a puppet show.

    • I was just talking about you not fifteen minutes ago. How bizarre. I’m serious. And I wasn’t even talking about how cool it would be to have a puppet show at your house.

      My new twitter novel @bumblesquare revolves around the idea of a bankrupt puppet show. I don’t know why I love the imagery so much. I just do. Thank you, mama Erika.

      By the way, are you a puppet hater or lover?

      • Erika Rae says:

        Saying that I am a ‘puppet lover’ sounds a bit twisted. ( ;

        I feel the same way about puppets as I do people. Some are lovable, some…not so much. As for a Nick Belardes puppet show, how could I have anything but adoration? OK then, I’ll say it: Puppet LOVER.

        • Erika, what about you isn’t twisted? Don’t you even feed your kids puppet food? I don’t even know where you buy that kind of stuff.

          Seriously I love puppets. I’ve made skeleton and devil marionettes and of course my six-foot-tall one named Bongo. My dad used to be a puppeteer, and so I have all kinds of weird memories of them and of my father building them.

  14. As usual, Nick, you are a wonderful writer. Your pieces are so evocative and I love the way you describe your world without cliche or simpleton plainness. I’ve never run into a homeless angel, but I did give a homeless dwarf $5 in a parking lot once. I help where I can.

    • See? You are the queen of comedy. The queen I tell you! Your comment reminded me of the midget Charlie Chaplain who used to hang around outside the Lady Luck Hotel in Las Vegas in the late ’90s. He got paid to chill and we loved to wave at him. When he smoked cigars they seemed as big as he was. The animators I worked with also loved to wave his way. He’d twirl his cane and wave back. Those were fun years to live there.

      Thanks for your kind words about my writing. I work hard to avoid cliche, though I fear there are hidden ones obvious to others except for me.

  15. Ashley Menchaca (NOL) says:

    This is such a phenomenal piece, Nick. I grew up believing that most of what we go through in life is a test. A constant character-building test. The people that cross our paths are there for a reason. The more you want to look away, the more you should turn a kind eye. After all, Satan is beautiful, right? How else could he tempt the masses?

    This was just a reminder to me. I loved it.

    “God said his angels are all around us. They look like people. For all I know street performers are a breed of angels meant to watch us when pretending they’re desperate to be seen. They stuff their big feathery wings into jeans pockets. They tuck ripples of pink-skinned wing muscle, all feathery and silky into raincoats and cloaks, and, though they may be a little below us, carry invisible swords and magical timepieces that compress our paths into mere moments.”

    • Ashley, I don’t know why, but your comment made me all teary-eyed. Tonight I was at a pizza parlor and there was a man in there who had the attributes of an angel in disguise. My son Landen said he rides a bike all around and knew the man’s name. I shook his hand. You ever shake the hand of someone and you feel like they’re from far away? It was like that.

      Thank you and God bless you. Life is a beautiful and ugly test at times.

      • Ashley Menchaca (NOL) says:

        I totally get that!
        There is a man here on the Westbank of NOLA that I’ve been looking after for at least 10 years. I’ve only spoken to him once or twice but I find myself getting anxious when a few days go by without a sighting. After Katrina I searched the streets for weeks until I finally spotted him. I don’t know where he went or how but I was thankful to have him back in my sights.

        I don’t know what it is about this particular man but all I can think is that he has to be on a level of consciousness that we know nothing about. He doesn’t ask for anything. He doesn’t hold a sign or even make eye contact with the world. Mostly, he just walks. He picks up cigarette butts from the street and rolls new cigarettes with whatever tobacco he can find. When someone gives him money, he goes to the nearby Wal-Mart and stocks up on Gatorade or whatever else he needs. Self sufficent as much as possible. My grandparents gave him a knit hat and gloves when I was in high school (that’s how I can recall how long it’s been) and when it get’s cold out, I see him wearing them. He also lets his beard get long and looks so much like Jesus that I’ve nicknamed him ‘my jesus man’. During the summer, he has a shave a short hair cut. I don’t know who does it for him but I think I would hug them if I ever found out.

        It’s almost like it is HIS CHOICE to live that way. You can tell in his eyes and hands that he has a story (who doesn’t) but it’s not what broke him.

        In some ways, I find myself a little envious of him. Such freedom.
        I may never know what that level of freedom feels like but I’m sure I couldn’t handle it.
        There is a lonely weight in his heart so strong you can see it in his stride but he just marches on…living his life. His way.

        Anyway, I didn’t mean to go into this long story about my jesus man. I just see such beauty when I look at him and I feel like for once, maybe someone else will see him the way I do or at least understand.

        Thanks for listening and thanks for posting.

  16. tabbitha says:

    Love the attentio to deatail most won’t even realize…your imagetry is so vivid it draws the reader in wanting to know what happens next!!!

  17. Matildakay says:

    Great piece! This is my favorite of your Vegas series. I love the descriptions of the Angels and how you made me feel your thirst! My mouth was as dry as yours by the end of your journey.

    • Oh good, because I was going to suggest cramming a package of cotton into your mouth before you read it for its full effect. Seriously, thank you. You liked it better than Saroyan’s Postcards? That’s my favorite of the series.

  18. Mike Gleim says:

    Nick is the coolest.

  19. Paula Austin says:

    I love your inimitable style of writing. Your capacity to provoke reflection, to invite the reader to go into oneself, to analyze the relationship between fellow human beings and the connection we keep with the whole of the world. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said, “We read to know were not alone.” I think your writing provides this link, we know were not alone. Most readers need connection, and in this connection they need to find a glimpse of hope. Hope for love, hope for life, hope for dreams to become reality. We need to know we are not alone.

    I spent some time in Vegas last summer. It is a world were the future can appear to some as having all possibilities, and to others the pit of hell. A place where hope is lost in cracks, and faces have no meaning.
    A place where life is loss, and love is cheap. It sets up the perfect backdrop to bring the heart into the reality of the depravity of human life. Your descriptive words connected my heart to your heart where I felt like I was experiencing that reality. You write from your heart. I don’t think you glorified or chronicled your hard times here, but you allowed your heart to express the depth of its pain. The depth of what its eyes saw in its wanderings. You also gave the reader glimpses of hope, the hope of angels. The hope of mending of repairing, of returning. The hope of life.

    I know that there is an ending to this story. An ending where hope is real, where dreams become reality, where rescue happens. I look forward to reading this story, if fact I anticipate a rescue…possibly an angel…As you once said “Don’t ever stop.”

    • Such a message of hope and peace in your comment. I don’t know my whole story, but I have had fun providing serious and comical glimpses. Vegas was a narrative simply worth the telling, as some narratives, as you point out, are as poignant to the writer as they are to the readers for which they are intended.

      I will probably go back to telling random older stories for a while. Not sure. But feel the need to write some comedy so people won’t think I’m forever stuck in a city of broken angel wings…

      Thank you so much and God bless you for your fabulous insight.

  20. Zara Potts says:

    Lovely stuff, Nick. You capture the world in a phrase and make it sing through all its pain.
    I love your ‘shoulder’ line. I could feel my own shoulder bending with the burden as I read it. Lovely, lovely work.
    I’m so glad I saw Vegas even though I didn’t understand an inch of it – I’m glad you can interpret her for me. Your desert stories are fabulous, my friend.

    • It was such a terrible time and I’m sorry I missed you and Simon. It’s one of my greatest regrets ever that I didn’t try harder to see you both. Thank you for your kind words as always. I’m glad to be back over here at TNB where I truly find a sense of family.

  21. Really enjoyed reading this and, like Cynthia said, that picture of the pool is just gorgeous and compliments the text perfectly, with its blurry edges and arid light and shadow.

    And I love lines like this “Their innermost layers, I imagined, were fused to cracked and caked lesion-covered wings, and to scabs where needles had burnt pools of coagulated blood onto drug-hot arms.”

    The description of the transients and the weary casinos reminds me, loosely, of this quote from Roland Barthes: “The essence of an object has something to do with the way it turns into trash.’’ Maybe, the essence of a decadent city, too.

    • Nathaniel, that Barthes line is absolutely beautiful. It takes the Second Law of Thermodynamics and turns it into a beautiful phrase.

      Thanks about the photo. Such a hot dismal moment to rest and take a photo. In the hot bright noon sun I couldn’t tell if the photo even came out. I ran it through a photoshop app on my iphone to bring out the warm colors and blur it a little. Blurs create focus. And I think it helped in this case.

      I’ll never forget those transients. Like broken angels everywhere.

      I don’t know why I’m drawn to such broken places.

  22. Kendra says:

    Thanks for sharing. Great read. I almost felt as if I were there; details in technicolor in my head. Life in Vegas is like the tables…hot or cold…you are successful with this piece depicting the harsh reality of the “other side of town”.

    • Oh I like that, Kendra! Technicolor in your head! Do you ever dream in black and white? I never have but I know some people do. Ok, that’s off topic. Yes Vegas does have an other side. It’s right on top of the side where the party is. It’s beneath it too. So many more people are living beneath the city I hear than ever before.

  23. Reno Romero says:

    nick:

    ahh, stories and streets of our old city. i miss that place from time to time, but i must say that coming back home to CA (despite its shabby economic condition) feels just fine…

    nick, you nailed this one. the streets, the sounds, the heat, downtown, the characters, are all here. you have to know vegas to be able to pull something like this off. i’ve read stories of people who dip in for a weekend and write about it. never works. never. but this does. not a shocker. one day we have to fly back to the neon and see what we can find. or what finds us. thanks.

    rr

    • I think if I visited now and then just to eat at Nevada Chicken I’d be just fine. Then a stroll through the abyss of broken casinos. A beer in a dive. A drive up to Mt. Charleston. And then finally, a gaze out over the atomic desert and a hop over the CCC wall where my Pop’s ashes lie scattered on the dormant seeds of wildflowers. And it would be all the better if you were there with me and we were laughing about stupid shit and NFL.

  24. Sara says:

    I was on a bus to St. Louis one time that originated in El Paso. A family from interior Mexico had that large bench seat at the very back of the bus and they had guitars and played them throughout the ride while singing songs in Spanish. They were going to visit relatives in Chicago–a long ride, I might say. It was very memorable. Another time a scruffy young man sat in the seat in front of me. I was startled to see the bus driver come back, pick him up by the collar of his coat, haul him to the door and literally drop-kick him up the sidewalk. I guess he was a habitual freeloader and the driver was well familiar with him. I DID get that you “crossed the Sahara” in your story. Do I get a gold star?

    • Five gold stars for you. Maybe six. Do they give six gold stars? Yes. I think they do and I shall. I really like my title. It fits in the most personal ways that aren’t even mentioned in the story.

      Your bus ride with the singing Mexicans sounds unforgettable. I can imagine the amazing journey that must have been. Oh for long rides!

      For some reason I remember driving into Denver on the way from Ohio and there on the edge of the city was a tornado. Surreal.

      • Sara says:

        You are constantly doing, doing, going, going, but if you ever have any FREE TIME (what’s that?) you could go along w/ storm chasers and write a play-by-play about it.

  25. pixy says:

    i have a deeply seated hatred and resentment of vegas. and an equally deeply seated love for the desert, so i was bound to love this. thank you for writing in a way that made me see the goings on of vegas a little differently. i can never get warm there either – a vortex of angels indeed.

    • I think we’re equal in our love and hatred. Sometimes I go so far as to blame Las Vegas for killing my parents.

      I have issues.

      Loving your line: “a vortex of angels.”

      • pixy says:

        funny, i blame vegas for lobotomizing my parents. but once the indian casinos came to town, they didn’t need their “speed runs” any more.

        i too have issues. 🙂

        • Are you sure we’re not related? Got so bad my dad moved there. He died there clutching his glow-in-the-dark rosary in a big rig in the middle of the city, with his boots on…

        • pixy says:

          could be… my parents are convinced that they took the wrong baby home from the hospital all those years ago and have been for quite some time, so there might be a chance.

          thanks to pala, pauma, pechanga and harrah’s rincon (only when they want to golf or it’s a special occasion will they venture to barona or sycuan), they’ll NEVER need to move to vegas. they can have their “acceptable weather” cake and eat it too, only 30 minutes from home.

        • It’s all so convenient, Pixy. Don’t you think? Now, I know I’m bashing on gambling here. But I just think the world is too big and beautiful to want to gamble often. I’d rather see some outdoors or heck, go to the movies. But that’s just me. Old fogies with oxygen tanks and slot machines? I don’t want to go out that way. God no.

        • pixy says:

          it’s far too convenient in my opinion.
          when i grow up, i will be the head asshole of the “don’t let people die in (figuratively and literally) in casinos: a gambling-basher’s paradise” coalition.

          my parents tried many times to introduce me to the beautiful wonders of the video poker addiction starting at the tender age of seven, spent countless hundreds of dollars in doing so, called it “spending time together”, and yet it’s never worked. i don’t see how pushing buttons slack-jawed at a computer screen is fulfilling, entertaining or fun. and i really don’t see how PAYING lots and lots of money to do so is fulfilling, entertaining or fun.
          casinos disgust me. seeing the amount of money they pull out of the atm only ONCE in an evening (and knowing that they go more than once) to put into another machine disgusts me. the fact that they still can’t stop after four bankruptcies and losing two houses because they can’t “control their spending” disgusts me. for them, it truly is an addiction.

          on the other hand, my parents don’t see how exploring places, going to see live music, training and running a marathon, traveling, reading and, well, doing anything that’s NOT going to a casino is fulfilling, entertaining or fun either, so i guess we agree on one thing – neither of us understands that which each of us finds fulfilling, entertaing or fun.

          i fully expect to spontaneously combust when the heavens decide they want me back – no casinos for me.

        • pixy says:

          ps: whew! ranty.
          sorry about that.
          a surface was scraped. 🙂

        • Pixy, dear. Hug.

          And just so you don’t feel alone: I once had my own little electronic poker game. My dad practiced on it and since video games were still relatively new at the time I thought it was kind of cool. Although, I realized soonafter the hidden family secret: that Pops had become addicted to gambling. It ripped the family apart. My familial world imploded. Mother withdrew from the world. Father drove the highways, a madman for the mad city of lights; a cowboy of the slot steeds–a buckaroo of video bananzas. And all the decadence. And all the sadness. And then oddly, I got a job in Vegas with an animation company. Pops was a trucker there. The irony of all ironies was that I was in the city I hated. Created shows for the big lights. Fremont Street. It was great fun. But I was haunted by my father who I suddenly had stopped talking to because of his selfish behavior was affecting me. I cut him off for the second time. My greatest regret. He died and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

          I was a fool. Should have still talked to the crazy greaseball. Should have but didn’t. And so I have had to seek healing from it all.

          And then going back. And I won’t say everything. And I won’t say whose picture was on my desk. And I won’t say how I hated the city going back after I swore I would never go back. And then missing my kids… But I needed a job. And then I couldn’t take it….

          Shit. I’m done ranting. I need a mother f(*(&#@ milkshake!!

          End of rant on rant.

        • pixy says:

          if only one of my parents had the issue, it surely would have torn them apart. but they both had the same addiction and they nutured it in each other, to the point of neglect in most other things. blargh.
          i couldn’t imagine working in a casino. i don’t even think i could imagine working in vegas, but i totally understand the need to survive and provide, so i commend your putting your disdain aside for the betterment of you and your family. you are a bigger man than i.

          there’s a place just outside twentynine palms on the way to amboy (and, consequently, laughlin) that has many flavors of milkshakes, including butterscotch and peppermint and strawberry. REAL strawberries. the next time the desert calls, we should meet up for one. 🙂

        • Strawberries!!!!!!!

          Well, I worked for an animation team owned by a casino. So it was just a bunch of wacky artists. It was fun. And I played lots of hockey and hiked in my spare time. So that was good.

          At the time.

          Again, strawberries!!!!!!!

        • pixy says:

          that sounds a bit like the company i worked for where i watched porn everyday. it’s like working for porn, but not IN porn. you worked for vegas, not IN (that idea of) vegas… or something, right?
          i just worked with a lot of geeky software engineers who were easily bowled over by my knowledge of very bad movies and the fact that i don’t have a filter. i didn’t interact with orange, fake boobalahed ladies or greasy overly hung dudes with tramp stamps.

          and strawberry milkshakes are the best. i loveloveLOVE the strawberries.
          and this place’s milkshakes bring all the boys and the marines and the coyotes and the methheads to the yard. that’s right, they’re better than yours, in-and-out.

        • In and Out is overrated. I like the greasy dives with the giant burgers you could wear for a hat.

          I agree. For but not IN.

          Tramp stamps! Ha! I don’t know what a tramp stamp is but I already like the terminology!

        • pixy says:

          education: tramp stamp
          they mostly specify women, but i’ve seen many a dude with tramp stamps in my day and they, like ed hardy, are the mark of the douche.
          example: i’m pretty sure all the dudes on the cast of “the jersey shore” have a tramp stamp.

        • I rarely see cool tramp stamps. Every now and then I see a neato one. But if I ever see a smurf or an NFL team I’m gonna hurl down someone’s shorts.

          For some reason I want a smoothie and a tattoo.

  26. Alex Mitts says:

    Way to go, Nick.
    I hung on every word.

  27. “…looked like an old pregnant Labrador about to spew a giant litter of cloth puppies.”
    One of the many great lines of this piece.
    And so glad you finally got to sit down and drink something – I got empathy hot and thirsty for you reading this.

    Also, glad you “atted” me to make sure I read this – because I really enjoyed it.
    I don’t get on here much these days, you are reminding me that I should, dammitt!

    And great empty pool photo.
    Yay for Nick!

    • I was atting a handful of people and just thought you’d want to read it for some reason. Maybe because you and Greg are angels. I haven’t been around here in a long time myself.

      I took a long walk today. I ended up at McDonalds. Damn golden arches are like a pot of gold sometimes.

  28. KayK says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Especially your take on angels hiding among us … I’ve always felt the same way.

  29. Loved this, Nick (and I am amazed that you wrote it on an iPhone. I don’t even have an iPhone, but I am still amazed).

    You will have to write to me separately and we can commisserate. This was the worst year of my life; here’s to hoping good things (and more angels) will come our way.

    Best,

    liz

    • Everyone needs an iPhone. They’re designed for dummies like me.

      Well I know about your job stuff and the news article and all that insanity. I hope things didn’t get worse. I motion to strike 2010 from the record.

      I’d talk about it. But I’d rather just forget about it. Glad I got a few good nonfiction stories out of it all.

      Yes, onward and upward. This is a good year so far. A few dips. No great valleys on the horizon. Only mountain peaks–the usual obstacles.

  30. Dana says:

    “I looked over but she ignored me, except through the farthest corners of her eyes, as little girls do.”
    I picture your Queen perfectly.

    Your writing always pulls me right into the scene. I’m just steps behind you when your suitcase flips and I trip and we both tumble to the ground in embarrassment. 😉

    I love your stuff and just now read your bio and see that you’ve got BOOKS. I don’t know how this escaped my notice in the past. When I get home my Kindle is getting a work out. (Why does this entire comment seem vaguely dirty to me?!? HA!)

    • I think that was my favorite line to write. It was like I had a little epiphany while writing about the Queen. Had she actually been watching me the entire time?

      I’m sure glad someone fell with me. 2010 was the biggest hole of aloneness I have ever fallen into. I’m lucky to have scrambled out with my suitcase and love for God.

      I hear my trivia book was available on Kindle but people were having trouble getting it now? And my novel on the Lords of Bakersfield is only in print. My Twitter novel is being taught at a few colleges right now. So that’s cool as heck. Contact me if you can’t find my Lords novel. It’s a creepy read.

      And if you’re doing what I think you’re doing with your Kindle, please set to maximum vibrate.

  31. Jessica Blau says:

    This is fabulous Nick! As usual, you show the steamy underside of things. But still, it makes me want to go there and see it for myself.

    • Wouldn’t it be fun to go into the tunnels beneath the city where people live? I know Matthew O’Brien. He’s offered me some hair-raising tours… Thank you for the “fabulous” comment. Much love and success to you and your new book.

  32. Jan Fulton says:

    Amazing! Thirsty. Gritty. Real. I want to keep reading. Don’t stop!

    • Did you find the beginning part that I put in the comments, Jan? Scroll up and you will find it toward the beginning of the comments in a comment to Angela Tung. Gives a little more of the story, though I didn’t post it. Thought it broke the flow of it all. I’m sure glad you like my gritty stories. Living them is a pain in the ass! Big hugs!

  33. Elizabeth says:

    What a wild, beautiful, heavenly LSD trip of literary brilliance. Can’t figure out my favorite image, though these are the frontrunners:

    “…a black suitcase that looked like an old pregnant Labrador about to spew a giant litter of cloth puppies.”

    “They stuff their big feathery wings into jeans pockets. They tuck ripples of pink-skinned wing muscle, all feathery and silky into raincoats and cloaks, and, though they may be a little below us, carry invisible swords and magical timepieces that compress our paths into mere moments.”

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. Can I tattoo your praise on my body? That wouldn’t be weird would it? I am so not worthy of that but want it written down the length of my side. Now you know why I loved your word “galumphing.” I was so tempted to re-edit this piece and use it once since I was freakin’ galumphing angrily the entire time. Your vocabulary is amazing.

      I had a girlfriend once who had a Labrador. Now that I think of it, the dog was kind of shaped like a suitcase.

      Angels sort of came to life to me that day. Even soaring high above in the glittering casino heat like owls.

  34. John Black says:

    Awesome piece Nick. I think you captured Vegas as good as anyone possibly could… but as one poster already pointed out…if angels were among us, they probably wouldn’t go to Vegas…(except maybe to detonate a nuclear device). That was a… haunting little read, instantly reminded me how desperate and Nihilistic I feel whenever I find myself in that God forsaken little shithole.

    One thing though…in the comments section you said “Vegas only has a dark side when I look at it…”. I think you were being too kind, Vegas doesn’t have a bright side. Not that I’m particularly well traveled, but it’s the one place I’ve been that didn’t appear to have a single trace of humanity. It’s the collective manifestation of EVERYTHING the bible told us to avoid when we were little. And I wouldn’t miss it if were gone.

    And lastly, if, in the future, you’re in need of more inspiration…just move to Barstow…it’s almost as depressing, and a shorter drive to get back home.

    • Barstow. In one of my many stops there I recall at a Burger King, there was a dude who looked like a science teacher. Marine cut hair. Wire-rimmed glasses. Fifty-ish. And wearing a big pink mumu. Crazy! At the time my kids were little. I tried to offer one $5 to ask the gentleman why in hell he was wearing a dress.

      As for Vegas, with all my machinations about the place, I can’t help to think there are good souls around the place. I mean, if not, then when I was there I was a bad soul? And maybe I was. Wouldn’t be far from the truth. But thank God for suitcases with wheels.

      Always love your take on life and the world, John. Angels with nuclear devices. Holy hand grenade man, that’s a vision!

  35. John Black says:

    Yeah Barstow is a pretty interesting place….where the meth industry goes, peculiarity follows? I had an interesting encounter with what was surely a homeless guy in the Barstow bus station, when I was like 13. After staring at me for a couple hours (all the while not even begging for change), he walks up to my dad and says “your son…has the face of a prince!”…then casually strolls out of the building. Apparently Bakersfieldians are magnanimous by Barstownian standards.

    And I might have been a little melodramatic and harsh in my earlier post. The first night I ever spent in Vegas (visiting my dad on my 18th), I went in Cesar’s and got disoriented when I came back out. After walking all the way down the strip to old Vegas, I realized I was lost. Found a security guard at a strip mall and asked for directions back to Harmon, and he points to his wife in a parked sedan. Says he’s about to get off and offers me a ride home. After being a lil traumatized by the propositioning of numerous drug dealers and pimps, I happily accepted. The irony being, that this couple had JUST moved to Vegas after living their entire lives in…. BAKERSFIELD. I try to remember those people every time I find myself wishing Vegas would get wiped from the map. Just seems like the city is 50 percent hedonism and 49 percent desperation.

    But I was surprised to realize today that you moved back there again last year…you just seem way too down to earth to live there. But a man needs to work, I suppose. Maybe it gave you enough fuel for another bad-ass novel? You’re the kind of writer that could find something epic and moving in a trip to Baskin Robbins. I could go on, but it’s all been said already amigo.

    And my take on life is pretty common… just another disgruntled, disillusioned monkey… struggling to reconcile the things he learned in Sunday school, with the world he sees around himself. I’d hate to see what kind of company I’d become if I actually had something personal to complain about.

    Then lobbest thou, thy holy hand grenade!

    • But John, you do look like a prince…

      Yeah. That’s bizarre of a compliment. I usual get stuff like, “Excuse me, professor, but you smell like sausage.”

      Rescued by Bako peeps in Vegas? That’s something my Pops would have done. The gambling addict he was, he was still this kind soul.

      Lived in Vegas twice now. Never again. Nope. Swearing on my iPhone right now. Not going back.

      And yes, Baskin Robbins is epic. The orange sherbet mountains. Yessss. Epic. Ha! Lob that f$^^er!!

  36. sheree says:

    This part left me awe struck:

    “Those are the holy jugglers and poet rappers of the Word. The men of sleight of hand flashing jokers, and ministering minstrels with guitar cases open like bloody mouths eating dollars. They are the homeless locust eaters watching us come and go and breathing on us their angels’ breath and God light”.

    You’re a bloody brilliant writer.

  37. Joe Daly says:

    High quality piece, Nick. You really capture the emotional exhaustion associated with leaving a city. I’ve had to leave a couple of cities on terms other than my own, and your piece really evoked the same emotions I experienced on my final days in those cities. It’s like your senses are heightened- maybe your mind is afraid it’s going to forget something important. If it forgets the whole thing, then did it mean anything? Stoopid mind…

    Anyway, well done- particularly on the iPhone. I have a tough time typing on mine. You are a bright shining light for iPhoners everywhere.

    • I agree: stoopid mind.

      I can only type well on an iphone holding it sideways.

      Thanks Joe for the kind words. I’d forgotten I’d written it, having allowed my personal life to affect my frequency of posting. I was kind of in a mental stasis for a while there. Working on creative projects. Facebooking. But not posting material. I’m glad to be back. I kind of needed this day for a long time. Thank you.

  38. sheree says:

    Saw the video and fell in love with the song.
    I don’t have an ipod thingymahjiggerdodad and would not know how to work it, if I did own one.

    Wow, he landed a job creating music for a movie sound track. The producers are super lucky to have him on the crew!

    I will look for him on face book. Thanks for the tip.

  39. Greg Olear says:

    The only thing to do when you find yourself in Vegas is what you did: leave. Nice piece, Nick. Good to have you back around.

  40. Lorna says:

    Wait. Wait!!!! You left me behind, Nick. At least someone got out alive. Sorry Vegas didn’t work out for you, Nick. But I really dig your Vegas stories. So real. So sad.

    I’m not really sure how anyone with any sanity could love this town. But as I always tell myself I better learn to like it because the only other option is to be miserable and I refuse to be miserable.

    Good luck to you.

    • Yes, don’t be miserable. Surround yourself with family, friends, angels and God’s truth. Then, there is a chance to be happy wherever you are. And eat at Nevada Chicken and Thai BBQ.

      Thank you for liking my Vegas series. I have enough for a small book. I need to write some pieces about my days there in the ’90s working for an animation company. And I need to write about the bus ride home…

  41. Jenn Phelps says:

    Wow! Your mind is a beautiful magical place. It felt like I were there. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Jenn. You were a hard sell. But seeing your kind words here made it all worth it pestering you a little. I hope you didn’t mind me bothering you on your Friday evening. I don’t know if my mind is beautifully magical. But I try to keep my imagination working overtime that’s for sure through lots of meningial pushups. Thanks again.

  42. Sara says:

    I am fortunate here in the breadbasket of the USA to be having several snowed-in days to get caught up on computering. I have been trying to sort of run all your Vegas stories in my head like a “connect the dots” and it truly is an amazing wonderland of colors and characters as I do that. Great alone-great connected. I am hopeful you will be able to post your other Vegas story and that you will inform us of it. I await your reply which I shall also reply to. Keep up the good work, Nick.

    • Oh I’m glad you’re reading them all. They are really meant to be joined together as a unit. I’d love to write a few more and some about my earlier days in Las Vegas in the late ’90s working for an animation company on Fremont Street. I think it would be a crazy book of memoirs. It’s a slow work in progress. And then my novel Anhinga I just finished has some of chapters loosely based on my time there…

      Snowed in days? So lucky… What’s snow? lol.

      • Sara says:

        It is uncanny how we can have several literary projects going on in our heads at the same time. It is also uncanny how creative people are “cross addicted” into several different areas:
        music, writing, visual arts, etc. I stay away from “dance,” lol. I love to dance but, you know, not very good at that one, and too nervous to “act” but love the creative process of theater, set-builting, etc.

        • I have done my first acting in the last few years. In film I played a Russian mob boss, a zombie, and wrote myself in as a Major Elco in my movie “Journey Man.” Just did my first theater and played a TV news writer in a bit part in my own play, “Stonewall.”

          I was an art major in college before becoming a history major and writer…

        • Sara says:

          I found a young guy in the UK on Twitter who is doing a Zombie movie. He has been selling producers’ packages on Twitter and FB to support his DREAM. I had a few book sales and ordered one of his packages win the funds–they will mention you in a Thank You film credit at the end of the film. I thought it would be so COOL to be able to call my poor self a movie producer! Also, since I probably won’t get my own DREAM, I wanted to help someone who COULD!
          Go for the poetry, Nick. It would be neat. Poetry is my first love (in writing). Sadly, not many people buy it anymore, poetry, but I still think it is worth writing just for its own sake.

        • I’m part of an interesting poetry group led by a Berkeley-bred poet. Our first meeting is next Tuesday. I need to write for it!

          Our movie fundraising starts today or tomorrow. We’re exciting. I will probably write something on here about it…

          You can be a producer with us too! Woot!

      • Sara says:

        It is uncanny how we can have several literary projects going on in our heads at the same time. It is also uncanny how creative people are “cross addicted” into several different areas:
        music, writing, visual arts, etc. I stay away from “dance,” lol. I love to dance but, you know, not very good at that one, and too nervous to “act” but love the creative process of theater, set-builting, etc.
        Snow? Guess it has been awhile since ya saw that. I am getting some on the top of my head now, lol–mainly around the temples!

  43. Sara says:

    Care to mention some of the jobs you have had? I have done all sorts of strange jobs in a large part to support my writing habit. I worked in a knick-knack factory where I was knick-knacked to death. I have painted signs, and painted house trim. I worked on old building restorations where one of my duties was to vacuum bat guano, yes bat guano, out from under the barrel tiles that served as roofing. I have worked very late night shifts in nursing homes. This provided me a lot of spooky and sometimes darkly humorous material. I spent years doing priviate duty healthcare and this afforded me the time to write one complete novel whilst the patient was sleeping in his hosptal bed. Even though I have a degree in Fine Art, I have done these strange jobs because they might be the only jobs available in the area in which I choose to live, or because the work hours jibed with my writing schedule!

    • Well, I am currently thinking about writing a book of poetry based on all of the factory work I have done. I know. Odd isn’t it?

      In the last twenty years: styrofoam factory, paperboard factory, fiberglas factory, head injury clinic, old folks home caretaker, journalist, content manager, TV news personality, photographer, creative director of marketing, digital sales manager, researcher, history professor, art professor, writing professor, copywriter, sports photographer, managing editor, sales, twitterer, Facebooker, storyboard artist, janitor, ditch digger, marketing assistant… and the list goes on seriously. To explain them all would open a world of weirdness.

      • Sara says:

        I knew your work history would be fascinating. My own family members often bemoan the fact that I did “not live up to my potential,” whatever that is, but for ME taking “the road less traveled by,” has led me to a far more interesting (albeit not profitable) life.

        • Oh, I should probably be teaching creative writing at a college. But that would take another degree or for a bunch of people to suddenly disappear apocalyptically around here. I just don’t see that happening… I’m supposed to start part-time work at a radio station here in a few weeks I think.

        • Sara says:

          Here’s wishing you all the best on your job. I should have gotten a graduate degree to have the security I need now at my age and taught at a university–but I somehow did not think I could follow the rules–the rebel in me, or one of my excuses, lol.

  44. Patty Wonderly says:

    My guardian angel is glad to be hanging out with your guardian angel again. That’s probably why you’re back. Las Vegas was like a black hole sucking you into its maw.

    • So was Laguna “ant” Hills with the crazy lady landlord who claimed to have dated Teddy Kennedy, Clint Eastwood and also called herself the Red Rose Empress of China. What a bizarre lady. She ripped me off several hundred bucks too. The jerk.

  45. Malesa Farris says:

    Hey Nick,

    I enjoyed this read. I become more inspired every time I read something you write, not to mention you wrote the entire thing on your iphone…..WOW.
    Two thumbs up friend!

    PS

    Glad you’re back in Bakersfield too!

  46. The Fresnan says:

    Engaging stuff as always, Nick.

  47. J.M. Blaine says:

    Ah Back to Bakersfield
    good to see you
    again sir
    I know what you’ve been
    doing
    off sharpening
    your prose.
    You raised your bar
    here.

  48. Judy Prince says:

    “My shoulder was already sore just dragging my life to the corner. Already forgetting about the transient, I stepped into the crosswalk just as the light changed. I crossed Sahara and gazed through car windows at empty morning faces. I looked up at a boarded casino dressed in black awnings. Just past that I saw the Stratosphere Tower. There flew a helicopter, while down on the street a motorcycle with a big moustache riding it roared past. I saw security guards wandering to work. I saw druggies hard up for the question of life to smack them in a fix of morning clarity.”

    Thoroughly figurative, thought-evoking, powerfully imaged, Nick.

    The entire piece loaded my brain and eyes with sad, ugly, fearful, hopeless, unhappy people. One day there and I’d be screeching away ASAP.

    Power stuff.

    • Judy, for some reason your ability to get me always grabs my heart and brings tears to my eyes. Much love to you.

      I don’t know if you’d run away. We’d probably drive around and take photos of wacky places. And then I would take you to a place 30 minutes from town. A little nook where the sand is like velvet and orange…

      • Judy Prince says:

        You’re right, Nick. I wouldn’t screech out of Las Vegas *immediately* if we could take photos of wacky places and get out of town where there’s velvet sand.

        BTW, I think you ought to keep that first third in the piece—-it’s terrific!

  49. Simon Smithson says:

    What a tiring, weary piece, Nick. And I don’t mean that in an insulting way, but talk about exhaustion and drag! Great photo, also.

    Thank God angels have come forth to carry you from perdition.

    • From perdition, yes. That is exactly right. Thank God! Hey, did you get the script? Is your part too nude?

      Let me know! We got a dude from Spike TV’s The Deadliest Warrior, another from Shutter Island and a Tolkien in the film… Hoping you’re game. We start fundraising this week.

  50. Irene Zion says:

    I love this line:
    “My shoulder was already sore just dragging my life to the corner. ”
    Really good image.
    It’s quite amazing that you wrote this on the iPhone.
    I have a terrible time with corrections, I can never get that little line in the right place to erase something.
    Do you have a trick for that?

    • Hi Irene. That’s a popular line from this piece here in the comments. I had no idea all the many times I read through this that “My shoulder was already sore just dragging my life to the corner” would impact readers so much. I keep trying to figure out why, but maybe it’s just the imagery, the idea of being on the precipice of this wide chasm known as the Sahara, though really just a street in this story.

      iPhone tricks. I used to juggle a lot as a kid. Maybe it helps in my iPhone deftness. I suggest juggling apples right before picking up your iPhone. Stick them in your purse and take them with you everywhere. Juggle like you mean it. That’s all I got. Love ya!

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      I loved that one too. Says so much so simply, with style.

      • I think I was really blind to potential impact of that phrase. In fact, I almost deleted it. Thought people might think I was complaining.

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          It’s amazing how audience works. I’ve had similar feelings about a sentence here or there… I’ll think it’s self-pitying or cliche, and it will turn out the biggest response. So, maybe it’s a sign. When something agitates us enough, we might need to try it out on readers before it gets tossed.

        • Second-guessing myself is second nature for me. I second-guessed this entire piece months ago when I wrote it and then let it sit thinking, “Have I posted just way too much shit about living in Las Vegas?”

          I had become a recluse from posting. And then I was in a conversation with Reno. Not even talking about writing. It was just I was talking to Reno from TNB and I thought that I should get out of my shell. This has been a great experience coming back here.

  51. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Nick, the way you know Las Vegas is a gift. I’ve always loved your sense of urban realism, so the surrealist glitter dusting this piece was newly magical. This line:

    For all I know street performers are a breed of angels meant to watch us when pretending they’re desperate to be seen.

    It shimmers with brilliance. So much so I’m now going to write it on a sticky note and attach it to the hutch above my computer screen. It will be the only quote up there.

    • Lisa, you flatter me so much. I read your comment to my kids while we were driving earlier. Your comment is really an honor and I am very thankful that it’s worthy of your hutch. Means everything to an average guy like me.

      I’m glad you caught on to the surrealist glitter as you call it. I just finished up a novel that has a lot of such writing. Not about angels, but other kinds of mythical magic realism. I hope readers like it. I try to show the world at times through a magic realism filter that illuminates otherwise mundane life…

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        I’m honored you’d share something I have to say with your kids… The quote is up! It’s powerful, Nick. You know I live on the boardwalk at Venice Beach and I watch street performers almost every day. Your perspective will really shift the way I walk through life and perceive it every day. This little sentence of yours will be quite an experiment for me.

        Your novel is wonderful news! Congratulations on finishing it. You know, I’ve always found your perception of mundane life so illuminating… the magic realism of this piece adds a sort of divine leverage… I’d love to read more… Looking forward to the book!

        • Oh that sounds so wonderful to live where you live. Today it’s just a shroud of fog in the usual hazy southern Central Valley. No ocean to wander to. No angelic street performers to see. Though there are the faces of humanity, the downtown denizens near here. I often take walks just to see their faces.

          I love your new experiment. I hope it inspires a poem or two.

          Gotta make some small editing changes to my novel and maybe add a chapter based on a recommendation. Then it’s time to send it out and pray.

          I’m embarking on a book of poetry too. First workshop starts tomorrow at a friend’s house. She’s a Berkeley-trained poet.

          My poems will have an industrial and factory theme.

  52. Matt says:

    So I wrote a glowing, articulate comment about how much I liked this essay right when it went up….and it looks like WordPress ate it. So in lieu of that, I just reiterate how much I enjoyed it, and how happy I am that you’re heading back to your old stomping grounds.

    • Double dog dammit. I hate when comments disappear. I really wish I knew what you’d written but I am just happy to read the word “glowing.” And knowing that your words radiated. And now your hair is probably falling out from atomic writing weirdness.

      I’m glad to have come out of my dark place into the light of TNB once again.

  53. Gloria says:

    Nick. Your writing is beautiful. Sparse and rich. This one made me choke up a little – especially the old lady at the end. The worlds you write about are full of life.

    And, yep, this is the same Vegas I remember, and I haven’t lived there since I was 13.

    Welcome back home, Nick.

    • Thank you, Gloria. So sweet of you to be so welcoming. Explain why it made you choke up? Is it because you can’t bear to think of me walking down an ugly tourist town street without you??

      • Gloria says:

        Yes, Nick, that’s why. Also, weren’t we supposed to get married a while back? Perhaps it made me a little wistful for what could’ve been – Vegas being the wedding town and all.

        OR (and I’m just throwing this out there) it could have been because you write about ugly in a beautiful, raw, human way that pulls unexpected but deep human emotion out of me unexpectedly.

        It’s most likely the wedding chapels though.

        • Gloria says:

          I said unexpected twice. But underneath the redundancy was a genuine sentiment that was genuine.

        • It’s Ok. I’m redundant all the time.

          Lucky for you I like the word “unexpected.” Kind of like getting knocked up and having that one kid that no one really… well, expected.

          Sure, let’s get married. No, wait. I remember. We argued over who would move where and called it off. Bugger.

          If I pulled emotion out of you like that it’s an honor because I’m not an eloquent writer.

        • Gloria says:

          Well, clearly you like to move. 😀

        • No, I don’t. And I know you’re teasing. The economy sucks here. Moved four times last year: Vegas, Laguna Hills and twice back to Bakersfield. Strike 2010 from the record. I will become a Homeless bum before I ever leave my kids again. Need them too much to not be in the same town…

        • Why’d you kill your Facebook. Email me if better. Or don’t answer at all if too personal…

  54. Michael Lee says:

    My mouth was parched when you read during a Random Writers Workshop, and now, I think must have gulped a gallon of water while I read about your journey.

    Please, don’t let your creative outlet run dry. The world needs your work.

    Bravo, Belardes. Bravo.

  55. The Salton Sea Chronicles says:

    This is some of your best writing

  56. Lee Prewett says:

    Using new technologies to take writing to new genres is cool.

  57. Jan says:

    What a wonderful article on the “Vegas Underworld”! Thank you for sharing the dark,steamier side of Vegas..the dirty streets and glass filled rooftops..You truly make me more aware of the people and landscape surrounding us in a more poetic way..thank you for slowing my world down and making me appreciate this hectic life…May God’s Angels be with you forever my friend..:)..

  58. It’s funny. I used to attract a lot of transient folks. They liked me. At the time, I thought it was because they could see that I was crazy. It was at a time in my life where I was being told as such. And didn’t mind. In fact, it made me feel a bit grateful for having loved ones to pay for the ‘care’ I needed. It made me feel more like a genius, too. Got a lot of esteem from it. Which turned out to be a bit of a trap. As far as milestones and narrative of achievement can get all twisted up in hard times with no end or way of being you can think your way out of. So, you move.

    I know these walks. And I think that an iPhone is a perfect companion to capturing the tone of the experience. Either in recall or as it happens. I kept seeing you walk in one place as the day with its creatures and points of note slid by you. Getting to the bus. Thinking stuff. Lost in thought. On a treadmill.

    I think when one is in this state – in an undefined but active transit – we get to see and be seen by this sort of angel. They save the sh** out of you, sometimes. I like the way it works. And I like this piece. It doesn’t glorify. It does not define the schism because it’s better to just convey the schism. The mechanics are wonderful.

    Thank you.

    Apologies for crappy grammar, punctuation, and usage.

    • “An undefined but active transit” is such a great way to put these walks. Sometimes I just sit and wonder why I take them. I’m really wanting to walk right now. Have to urge to step outside and wander into the dark areas where the angels blend into the landscapes and as you say, “save the shit out of you, sometimes.”

      Your comment really made me think for days.

  59. laura says:

    Wow. I knew I’d want to linger over this piece, so I waited for over a week when I’d have some quiet time to fully enjoy it. I wasn’t disappointed. Even if I hadn’t once myself dragged a suitcase down the streets in the blinding heat of Las Vegas, I’d be able to experience it as if I had been there. There is something very moving in the way you write about the dirty and the freakish; without hope or romance, you nonetheless evoke redemption.

    I want more of this.

    • Hi Laura. Thank you so much. My goal was to transport readers into my hopeless hope-filled walk. Your compliment about it being very moving really makes me feel like some of the crazy wanderings I take are worth capturing. I will write more for sure. Thank you. Oh, and I saw your Twitter message. I don’t have a book coming out, though I did illustrate a great novel by Jonathan Evison titled “West of Here.” It just came out and is worth the read.

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