What have you been drinking?

I’ve been drinking a lot (like gallons) of a beer called Maredsous. A Belgian. Like 9% alcohol and delicious. I go to Pete’s Cafe & Bar on 4th & Main during happy hour and drink much of it. Before that it used to be Piraat Ale. Also Belgian.

And I also drink wine because I love it. I have writing workshop at my apartment on Tuesday nights and we drink and snack during the class. Whatever is left over, I drink it on Wednesday morning for breakfast.
And tequila.


What is your favorite recent film?

Ok. So I can’t stop watching Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I watched it recently on cable only because it was directed by the guy who directed Raising Victor Vargas, which I also could not stop watching (In fact, for a while, while living in New York after watching that movie, I couldn’t stop saying, “Hey, I’m Victor!”). Anyway, I’ve watched Nick & Norah like 4 times now. I think I will have to illegally download the soundtrack. Kat Dennings! Mmmmm…

Which got me thinking (the movie, I mean) about writing, about what I wanted to accomplish as a writer, and then I thought I had this huge breakthrough of a thought and so I’m walking down 7th St. toward Maple through all that piss stink and I’m walking with my wife and I’m all excited as I tell her that I’ve figured out what I want to do and she says, “What?” and I say, “Ok, so if I could just combine high literary art with uber-melodrama, THAT would be the holy grail!” She’s like, “What?” And I say, “You know, combine, I don’t know, William Faulkner with, you know, Dawson’s Creek! That! That would be the greatest thing!” And she says, “William Faulkner already did that.” And that was the end of that.


Are you tired?

Yes.


Are you excited?

Very!


About?

Well, couple of things.

One — this is HUGE! I got the opportunity, I mean the honor, of working with O-Lan Jones and her Overtone Industries on an opera she’d conceived and was developing. This started like 10 years ago. I got to write one segment/world in the story and one song. And guess what? It’s here! Opening July 8! (Previews starting July 1) In beautiful Culver City! In a beautiful abandoned 25,000 sq ft car dealership space!! It’s actually one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been involved in. Go here for tix.)

Two — this month’s edition of The Last Chapbook Salon was awesome. Every third Sunday of the month, we have a reading at an amazing bookstore in downtown LA called The Last Bookstore. They gave me a shelf to curate with chapbooks from local writers and in return, the writers donated 3 copies each of their chapbooks so the store can make a little money. And it’s been great because people you may not normally see at a reading have been showing up and sharing and trading and buying. Very cool. I’m proud of that one.


What else?

I hate Boston. I’m so happy we beat the Celtics. I’m so happy the Bruins self-destructed in the hockey playoffs. I can’t wait to see the Red Sox lose a 7-game series too.


Any last words?

She’s just jealous because you have a beautiful thorax.



There was one seat left at the diner bar next to a white-haired gambler. I sat down as he ordered a soda and bowl of chili. I ordered the $4.95 Binion’s Burger, potato salad and a two-dollar Coke.

The white-haired man didn’t say a word as he waited for his food. When it arrived he took a couple of bites, washed it down with a sip of his drink, then paid for it with two five-dollar casino chips.

“Keep the change,” he said.

A female worker with sunken cheeks and poorly dyed hair stood behind the counter and shrugged after he wandered away. “I sure hope he was finished,” she said.

As she tossed his leftovers in the trash, a soft-spoken black man with a beard walked up on my right. He put a bag on the chair between us. “What kind of beans you got?” he said.

“Pinto,” said a Binion’s diner worker named Mel. I swear he worked the same counter ten years before. He was so matter of fact that I considered ordering some beans too.

“Give me some of that. And some corn bread. And a water,” the black man said. His food arrived almost as fast as he ordered it.

My burger was juicy. There were three tomatoes along with other fixings on the side. I carefully placed the tomatoes on top of the patty, replaced the bun and took a bite.

I looked over at the black man. He’d dismantled his cornbread and mixed it into his beans.

In the morning I saw a woman asleep in the warm Las Vegas light. She sat on a chair and leaned against a pole. Her dirty head was flopped forward and to the right. She leaned slightly against black and blue bags. Both had been silkscreened with the words, “Las Vegas.”

She’d been there all night.

My first night in town I walked from the sardine-packed crowds of Fremont Street to find the Downtown Transit Center. I was going to start taking a city bus to my new job.

The streets were nearly empty along Main Street Station. I rounded a parking garage to find a limping black man talking to his friend about getting in a club. One of them said something like, “We can get in there.” They disappeared into an alley lit by historic neon signs that led back to the tens of thousands partying under the Fremont Street Experience.

Up ahead, glittering blue and pink lights lit the top of the transit center like a slot machine just hit a jackpot. I walked through its doors to find a man sleeping on a chair. The long hallway was empty, silent. If it weren’t for the flashing lights on top of the building I would have thought the bus station slipped into hibernation.

A young hustler slunk past closed cashier windows. A Latino janitor pushed his cart through the station. He didn’t look like he wanted to work. I checked the price of bus fare. Seven dollars a day. Steep. Those are deadly prices. Tourist prices. You have to have a hell of a good job just to afford the stale bus air and a spot on seats that rarely catch a whiff of hand sanitizer.

I walked back out through the same set of doors that I entered.

“What do you mean it’s not open twenty-four hours? What the fuck am I supposed to do after hours?” said a man into a cell phone. The world around him was a big dark mess lit in the distance by neon and schools of light bulbs that swam through the Vegas night. He had a black bag slung over his shoulder and looked to be in his late fifties. Maybe he had grandchildren. He could have been a drifter. Maybe he was like me and just found a job in a big city far from where unemployment still dipped near twenty percent.

I slipped past into the glittering night.

Walking south I could see the closed Lady Luck had spent her nine lives. I remember when it was open. When I worked in Las Vegas ten years before as an artist for the big canopy of lights above Fremont Street. I remember a midget Charlie Chaplan twirling his cane outside the casino like he was some kind of shrunken Alice in Wonderland street performer. I had waved at him.

“Look at all the casinos,” said one of two men in front of me. I couldn’t hear anything else they said. My ears practically deaf from too many factory jobs.

I lost sight of them walking toward the Gold Spike.

I made a right turn and snapped a foggy, lonely photo of the El Cortez after a herd of cowboys slunk past toward the raving party on the promenade.

Across the street, a gutted room basked in white light. Empty bench stools hung under the weight of ghosts.

I made a left, toward the shadows of shady motels. I passed the old glittering historic Aladdin Hotel lamp and a flickering vertical sign that was nearly burnt out. Only two letters worked at all. They flashed and buzzed “FR-FR-FR…”

Tired, I turned around and headed straight toward Fremont Street.

A man in a wheelchair sat at a corner. His thinned grey hair on his big round head looked like a mess of moonlit grass. Two men leaned against newspaper racks about ten feet away from him. They waited.

“I’m going to hustle her,” one of the men said about a woman across the street. She stood by herself on the corner as if crack was going to flow from a nearby storm drain.

I shuffled across the intersection, past a club, a nearly empty Cuban restaurant, and an Albanian pizza parlor. A 7-11 that once flashed its gaudy convenience store sign had closed since the last time I lived on Fremont Street.

Since the last time I lived in a casino.

Further ahead, tourists stared into the big metallic sky. They waited for more lights to explode. I soon entered the hotel where I was living. I peeked at a tank where two sharks slowly circled with schools of fish. They look like they’d been gambled out. This was it, their last show. Out near the pool someone hit it big. Or maybe they just didn’t bust. Or maybe they were enamored by the lumbering sharks.

I went up the elevator to the 22nd floor. Outside, there were shouts from an alley. The walls shivered with conversation. I shut the blinds, the curtains and the lights and eventually fell asleep.