I was in the security line at YYC some years ago, en route to Las Vegas, deeply ruminating my disintegrating life when the customs official pulled my brown friend out of the line.
“Just standard procedure, of course. Nothing to see here.”
The wounds of 9/11 were still fresh, festering in airports across the continent. Police, security, custom officials, the occasional vigilante, all patrolled Departures gates with the wild feral look of cornered ferrets. My friend was Indian – not Saudi or Afghani – but it didn’t seem to matter. The difference between an Indian and an Arab is the same as a Russian and an Irishman but my friend’s skin was brown and that meant trouble.
I knew one misstep and these thugs would sodomize my poor friend with their batons and leave what’s left of him for the vultures at the Department of Homeland Security to pick dry.
I have to admit I was somewhat relieved to be in a room where for once I wasn’t the focus of the public’s rage. Not that I’m naïve. I have no doubts all those doughy geologists would set upon me like wild coyotes had I so much as adjusted my belt. Their wives and children would cheer the beating like Mexicans at a cockfight. The travellers were locked into a collective terror, thinking all at once, together in their fear that a bespectacled Indian was hell-bent on turning the 11:47 to Vegas’ fuselage into rubble.
“Is this it?” they thought. “Does that Arab have C4 strapped to his chest? Are we all done for? Now that I think about it that cheese-eyed Negro he’s with is looking mighty suspicious. He’s definitely a shade too uppity. The cut of his gib is all wrong. It wouldn’t hurt to give him a couple of blows with the baton as well. Just to be on the safe side.”
Somewhere near the Captain’s Lounge a four-year-old is losing consciousness in a customs agent’s chokehold for slipping past security with a half-empty Capri Sun. A Saskatchewan grandmother is absorbing a right hook for stopping to tie her shoe. It’s a madhouse here but I’ll be damned if anyone gives a shit.
Al Qaeda needs a new face so a toddler on a sugar high is as good a candidate as any. Tomorrow it might be you. Or your dog. It doesn’t really matter so long as you’re scared and won’t kick up a fuss once Karl Rove comes looking for your phone records and porn habits. After all, if that damn dog somehow learns how to push the button on the detonator, who else can save you but the Pentagon you Commie homo?
This was my first time going to Las Vegas, and in the week leading into it I had flamed out at a series of temp jobs, been sent to collections for an unpaid car insurance bill and found out my girlfriend of two years had been sleeping with a battery salesman at a cell phone kiosk. Nobody would deny she made an upgrade.
There are certain times in a man’s life where the universe will show him mercy and do away with all subtlety. The universe wanted me gone – preferably in a most grisly fashion by my own hand – and was letting me know it directly.
And I was tempted to oblige.
We had been booked into the Stratosphere; a hotel tower on the far end of the strip where the edge of controlled consumerism gives way to something else entirely. A low rent motel lay across the street, along with a 7-Eleven, a liquor store, a shop for souvenirs and cheque cashing and a secluded parking lot for the gangbangers to sell drugs and aftermarket assault rifles.
It’s easy to forget, on the strip, that people actually live in the city. We met a couple on our third day, at the outlet mall. I picked up an underaged Chola from one of the shops and in another a flamboyant homosexual told me my ass looked good in True Religion jeans. It was the first compliment I’d received all year. I was grateful.
By the end of the trip I had drank 130 ounces of rum, 52 ounces of tequila, 26 ounces of vodka and an uncountable series of shots at $13 apiece; I’d pulled on any random joint passed to me on rooftops and poolside parties; I made out aggressively with a married woman from North Hollywood, several Latinas from South Central and a Cherokee woman with a lisp from Minnesota; to top it off I sent frantic word home for a fresh infusion of funds, passed out in a restaurant booth and was ejected from a strip club for throwing up on my shoes and verbally assaulting a dancer.
I’d do it all again in a gunshot, except this time I’d try to find some decent cocaine or a blotter of acid and I would have taken a swing at that talentless hack Akon when I had a clear shot at the Hard Rock pool.
It takes days to recover from such a beating and years to forget the hangover that followed.
I remember this trip as I’m holding my daughter this past Thursday, the sun shattered through the blades of the blinds, the distant rumble of a street sweeper wreaking havoc on the peace and quiet of the adjacent block. Looking into her suspiciously square and Germanic face sets me thinking of life’s pendulum; how it can plunge to such depths and boomerang back out. The man who washed the vomit from his mouth by gargling tequila on a dingy bathroom floor of a cheap Vegas hotel would not quite know what to make of what appears in the mirror today. It’s hard to come to grips with.
And it’s scary. Because, two decades from now I don’t want to be on the other end of a frantic midnight phone call from my depressed child asking for a money transfer to drop on Game 5 of the NBA Finals. I won that bet by the way, just in case you needed reminder that Jesus is alive and his name is Kevin Garnett.
It feels irresponsible to bring another life into this mad world where a snake oil salesman of a US President has been handing out hand jobs to the banking industry to nary a word from the “fair and balanced” media and no thought from the rabble who believe so long as the president does urban handshakes with LeBron James and rides skateboards to press conferences, nothing at all is the matter.
It would be different if I had come to a point in my life where I’d made peace with the whole thing and could give her a good answer when she comes to ask me why life’s such a fucked up medley of pillage, robbery, pain and bestiality. What do I say when things to turn to shit, when her own boyfriend inevitably steps out on her with a cocktail waitress from Perkins? They’ll have to dredge the Bow River for his body but it doesn’t change that I don’t know what to say. How do you make things better? Especially when you were unable to do so for yourself in that same situation.
Is there any other gig out there where the one thing you’re entirely unqualified to do is the one you’ll get anyway and with free range to do as you please. It’s like applying for a job at a junior high school after you’ve been swept up in a To Catch a Predator sting – and getting the job.
Bah, I’ve veered very far off course here and into pretty dark territory. The pendulous nature of life. That’s where I was. Life’s a crock of shit and maybe that’s the secret to the whole thing. It doesn’t matter what you do because no one besides handful of people and care enough about you to give a damn whether you win, lose, fail or catch The Clap twice in eight days. Not that I would know anything about that.
So there it is. The marrow of this thing. If it doesn’t bring happiness to you or someone you care about, don’t waste your time thinking about it. It sounds profound. I think. And even if it doesn’t soothe the troubled mind entirely, it’s a good enough start.
I’m hopelessly outmatched here and would consider myself victorious if I keep her off the pipe and the pole.
Damn it, I’ve lost my train of thought again. I better wrap this up quickly. My friend was eventually let go after convincing security he had no terrorist, communist or Saudi affiliation. On the way home I was forced to drink tequila just so I would stop shaking and they’d let me board the flight without fear of me having a seizure in the aisle seat. I’ve gone back three more times but have never acted even remotely as depraved and corrupt as I did that first time.
I suppose, with me, the more miserable I am, the more disorderly fun I’m having. I’m happy to report I haven’t had a lick of fun in over a year.
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