The girl sat alone at a restaurant inside a casino in Las Vegas, feeling like a girl in a story.
she wasn’t a girl. She was turning 36 soon. But somehow “woman” had
never felt like an accurate descriptor for herself. “Woman” sounded
older, fleshier. Or like a mom.
“Girl” struck the right
note, with its insinuations of vulnerability and naïveté, long hair and
flat shoes and a shoulder-slung bag like a college student would wear.
Not a classy lady in high heels, not a soccer mom with a sensible
haircut – a chick. Just some chick.
She was here because
the place had meaning for her. It occupied a slot in her self-mythology.
Or to put it a less flaky way: She was here because a guy she’d loved
had hurt her feelings here.
He hadn’t meant to. But he had.
Who cared. Nobody cared. Nobody cared but her. Not even her most of the time, six years after it happened.
she had walked all the way here from her hotel at the other end of Las
Vegas Boulevard – in what she’d dubbed “the Clown District,” a private
joke with herself (she was traveling alone) because she was near the
Circus-Circus – and now she sat at a table for one with her
bachelorette food (tomato soup with grilled-cheese wedges to dip into
it; four jumbo shrimp poked into a bowl of crushed ice; she would have
the crème brûlée for dessert, bless her bourgeois little heart) and a
pear martini with owl-face slivers of pear slotted onto the rim.
Do the details even matter?
She felt her sense of story breaking down.
had started to break down the day before, after she’d stopped at that
Navajo jewelry shack – one of dozens on the way to the Grand Canyon and
on westward to Vegas – where she drummed up some bad mojo by taking a
photo of the shack. Total tourist move; she was disappointed in
herself. The young guy who’d been explaining the symbolism behind the
jewelry to a customer (“…this is a bear that’s been shot with an arrow;
it represents strength…”) came over to her and said, “I’m sorry, Miss,
but there’s no taking pictures of the jewelry.”
was just taking shots of the view.” And she gestured at the expansive
mountain-and-canyon backdrop behind him. It was true; she hadn’t given a
crap about the jewelry.
But because of the (mutually
polite) confrontation and low number of customers, she felt it’d be
rude to just pull away without buying something. A sign by the door
proclaimed: “We take all major American credit cards,” which was good
because she habitually spent all her cash on generous cab tips. She had
avoided buying any of the Native American jewelry, on this trip and on
the one she’d taken six years before; somehow buying the roadside
jewelry had seemed… vulgar. Blatant tourism, taking a whole entire
venerable culture and making it all “cutesy.” She kept thinking of that
part in the modern-day “Addams Family” movie when Wednesday, playing a
Native American in the camp play, says:
“Years from now
my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations; your
people will wear cardigans and drink highballs. We will sell our
bracelets by the roadsides; you will play golf and enjoy hot hors
(In fact she had a cardigan in her duffel bag
in the rental car at that moment, and would eat hors d’oeuvres and
drink a cocktail in Vegas the following night.)
almost-36-year-old girl took her time at the jewelry shack, having
nowhere to be, no deadline, no curfew. She listened to the guy talk to
another customer about symbols. She read the little placards that
explained the mythology. She took it seriously. Hey, this road trip was
all about mythology – hers, mostly.
She was a girl; she
was not a mom. But she wanted badly to be a mom. She and her husband
had been trying for almost a year. He was at home back East; he didn’t
like road trips, plus this trip only had special meaning for her. It
was cool, though; she called him about twice a day to check in, to see
how his day was going, to tell him good night.
An index-card-sized placard, in magic marker: “Kokopelli – Childbirth & Agriculture (new beginnings). A prankster.”
duh – childbirth. New beginnings. Of course she should buy something
with a Kokopelli on it. She found a necklace – a silver chain with a
silver Kokopelli charm. He looked like a character in some comic strip
that 11-year-old boys would have liked in the ‘80s when they had less
pop culture to choose from, a proto Bart Simpson – his body was bent
forward in an insouciant curve, his hair was spiky, he was playing some
sort of flute. No, wait – he looked like a hippie icon, like something
you’d see on the bumper of a Jeep or New Beetle, next to Grateful Dead
and Peace Frog stickers, or one of those ones that said “Coexist” with
all the religious icons for the letters.
In other words, not really her style.
But hey, childbirth.
she took the necklace, and also this rainbow bracelet that she just
plain thought was pretty, up to the cash register. She held them
delicately, as if they were sacred things.
A tourist woman was trying to haggle with the Native American store woman over the price of a giant dream-catcher.
The Native American store woman said: “It’s 95 dollars… These take a lot of work…”
To which the tourist woman said, insultingly: “How about 60?”
went back and forth for a while – with the store woman saying, “The
woman who made it’s not here; I can’t negotiate on the price,” and the
tourist woman (used to getting her way, surely praised throughout her
life for “driving a hard bargain” or some junk like that) said, “Can
you call her?” (meaning, call the woman who made the giant
dream-catcher) – before the store woman made a final low offer of 75,
and the tourist jerk said, “I think 70 is good." Bitch.
A man in the tourist woman’s group finally had enough and said, “75 – we’ll pay 75.” He just wanted to get out of there.
whole time the girl (who was really more of a woman, age-wise, if
we’re being accurate about demographics here) had been biting her
tongue to avoid saying, “Excuse me, but you’re being disrespectful –
she just said these take a lot of work to make.” The girl thought of
saying something like: “If you don’t stop being such a creep, you might
screw up the mojo of this thing and it might let your nightmares
through,” but the girl never would’ve had the nerve to say something
like that, even on her worst day.
So there the girl stood, feeling all superior and culturally sensitive and appropriately reverent.
the young guy who’d been talking about arrow-riddled bears was summoned
to ring the girl up (because the tourist woman was still haggling),
and the girl said (just to double-check), “You guys can take Visa,
right?” and the guy said, “Sorry; only for certain items. For these we
can only take cash.”
Which she didn’t have, because of the
cabs, because she always felt she had to tip extra when the drivers
were chatty and they had some heart-to-heart in the cab, which seemed
to happen a lot. So, embarrassed, the girl just left the Navajo
jewelry shack like a jerk without even putting her items back.
She pulled out of the lot and drove down the road and started to cry. So she pulled over, and cried harder.
was because of the stupid Kokopelli that she was crying. She would
never have bought a hippie-looking piece of jewelry like that, except
that something in her, something that was still sentimental, had thought
that maybe – what? It would help her get pregnant?
because some Native American dude or chick a long time ago made up
this guy, this Kokopelli character, and dubbed him the deity of having
babies? It made about as much sense as constellations, and astrology,
all of which she regarded as made-up bunk, too.
“I could dub this
blade of grass the almighty God of Pickles! I could tell you a
squirrel that’s been shot with a bb gun is a symbol of rage and
Why is a thing considered sacred just because it’s
old? Just because it’s been told for centuries by people in an oppressed
and mystical community?
And wasn’t it deeply effed up,
this white chick thinking mean things about Native American culture?
What was wrong with her? Somebody hand her a cardigan and a highball!
maybe Native Americans would like that she thought these things --
maybe they would think: "Finally a honky who doesn't go all
faux-reverent over our goddamn dream-catchers and Kokopelli kitsch.")
Bitterly she drove on: “…And he’s a prankster, too – he probably would have given me a miscarriage just for kicks.”
It was just some dumb story.
she sat at this table in Vegas, trying to have this moment she felt
she should have, some moment a girl in a story would have -- epiphanic,
empowering, life-changing. She sipped her pear martini slowly,
thoughtfully. She reminded herself why she was here at the Monte Carlo,
where she’d stayed with that guy who’d hurt her feelings six years
They had been romantically, sexually – and secretly –
involved for almost a year. The surface reason it was secret was
because they had once been co-workers; he still worked for her old
company and it might look unseemly for him to be dating someone
who once had also worked there. But she knew the real reason he didn’t
come out and say, publicly, on Facebook or to any of their mutual (her
former) co-workers, to any of his friends or his mom: “This is my
girlfriend.” It was because they both knew she wasn’t in his league.
was a “hot” guy, a popular guy, an alpha male, a golden boy at his
job, successful and self-made rich (the highest American virtue), a
funny and mostly decent guy. And she was just some chick.
was no denying they had common ground, like one of those Venn
diagrams. They came together in some place where rapturous music and
dramatic Western landscapes were sacred, some place where the point of
life was to remind yourself, as often as you can, that you have a soul.
Not a soul in the religious sense, one that can be sent to heaven or
hell. But something inside you that was more than your body or even
your mind. Something higher.
This common place they shared
had never made up for the fact that she wasn’t photogenic or at ease
in most social situations. In some weird modern twist on a Jane Austen
tale, the girl wasn’t seen as a fitting match for him – on some
bone-deep, DNA-deep level. Not by him, not by her, not by anyone.
when they stayed here at the Monte Carlo that one time (she was
passing through town on a road trip, a long story that would feel out
of proportion to tell parenthetically here; he was in town for his
friend’s wedding), and someone with the wedding party came up to them
in the casino and asked if she (the chick) and the guy (the
out-of-her-league one) were married – she had laughed it off, and he
had looked mortified.
The whole time they were in town he introduced her like this: “This is my friend… This is my friend…”
if she were his buddy ol’ pal. As if they grabbed brewskis and watched
the Big Game together, belching openly in front of each other,
high-fiving a lot.
It had hurt her feelings.
she looked around at the sea of slot machines, the blinking lights and
plink-plonking coins and the beeping of winning and losing, and said
what she needed to say: “I deserved better.”
It was true. She had.
in six years a lot of anger can dissipate. They were both happily
married to other people now – now they truly were friends. There was no
need for the squirrel god of vengeance. So she paid her bill and went
out into the night to take the poky little city bus to Fremont Street,
in the old downtown, to see the neon cowgirl, to have a new adventure,
like a girl in a story.