I actually read most of one of the books on the planes - there were three of them between Albany, New York and Vegas: Albany to Milwaukee; Milwaukee to San Francisco; Frisco to Deviltown. That’s not my name for Las Vegas. That’s what I heard the guy behind me on the last leg of the journey call it. He was arguing with his wife about their trip and he called it that.
"Why the hell we’re going back to Deviltown I’ll never get it," he said as angrilly as anything I’d ever heard anyone say. "Shoot craps, lose money, play cards, lose money, pull the lever and you don’t even get a bag of chips, just lose money!"
"You’ll love it, Honey," she said as calm as a cool breeze in mid-summer.
"Deviltown! Settled by scum, populated by scum, visited by scum."
"Honey, cool it," she said, "or you’ll be scum like the rest of ‘em."
"I tell you it’s the Devil’s own place, Myrtle," he said and I started to zone him out, "and I’m not spending one lousy buck there." That was it for me. He was gone, but I remembered that Deviltown name. That stuck with me.
Sanja was waiting for me when I arrived. She grabbed my bag and hustled me out into the intense and dry heat of this desert place and into her air-conditioned station wagon. I hadn’t even had a good look at her yet, the heat was so overwhelming, and I finally glanced up at her as she got into the driver’s seat next to me. She was wearing a mini-dress, sort of, with a very high hemline that revealed her legs far too close to her crotch and it also had a neckline that plunged to within inches of her midriff. It was a cool yellow color with an almost electric pink pattern running through it. She wore high heels in a matching yellow and carried a small pink purse on a heavy gold chain slung over one shoulder and across her entire body.
Sanja had been a pretty woman, I remembered that about her. Silt colored hair, an almost red-wine brown hue, cut short like Shirley MacLaine’s used to be, and sort of arranged like a fringe around her face. She had large features: eyes, nose, mouth, chin and very small ears. Her smile was all teeth and that was how she looked when she spotted me in the airport and again in the car when we were settled in.
"You look like shit," she said instantly. "Don’t you ever get outside into the light?"
"I do all right," I said defensively.
"Like Hell you do!" I could hear the laughter in her voice, settled behind the words and sort of waiting to spring out. "I’d bet you hadn’t seen daylight for weeks until today. And today you saw it through airplane windows! PaH!" There was the laugh, plosive, mighty, brief.
"Sanja, I do all right, believe me. I’m out every day, walking around, soaking up the rays."
She gave me that odd look she reserves for moments of challenge, but it softened and she let the whole subject drop, which was good for me because I didn’t have much of a comeback prepared for anything else she might say on the subject.
"I hope you brought a bathing suit," she said. "I have a pool and a jacuzzi, but you’re not sitting around starkers in either of them."
"I have a bathing suit," I replied, thinking there would be a chance to buy one in the next day or two when she wasn’t looking.
"Good! We’re going to my friend Delly’s tonight for a pool party. You’ll look cute in whatever you brought, I’m sure."
"Can we stop on the way at a store," I said sheepishly. "I need...."
"I knew it," she shouted. "I knew you wouldn’t come prepared. PaH!"
She reached into her large canvas bag, slung across the back of the seat she was sitting in and she pulled out a handful of cloth swatches, all of which she dropped in my lap.
"Pick one," she said. "Hell, pick two. Pick them all, I don’t care."
I looked at the cloths and discovered them to be men’s bikini bathing suits, things I would never consider wearing back home in Massachusetts.
"I can’t wear these..." I started to tell her, but she interrupted me again.
"Okay, Mr. Modest. Listen up. You’re in Las Vegas and your middle-aged body is not in bad shape and you’ll look fine in these things if you just don’t go around blushing and apologizing all the time, okay?"
I was about to respond when she said again, only louder, "OKAY?" I nodded and she grinned and kept driving, just a bit faster now I thought.
I was standing in front of a full-length mirror later that evening, wearing one of the bathing suits Sanja had chosen for me. I had to admit I didn’t look too bad in it, but I also had to say, and I think I said this to her at the time, I did feel a bit out of my element. I’m not a particuarly modest man, but I don’t like seeing that much of myself all at once, ever. My genitals were covered and held in a compact and pretty permanent way by the material, but the cut was so high on the legs that if I bent slightly I couldn’t see the waist strap at all and it looked like I had on a piece of colorful cloth glued to my groin.
I’m tall and thin, nice to note at my age, and my hair is good and still a pale brown and my jaw is firm with no second chin in sight. I looked about twenty years younger than my age. But Sanja was also right about my skin: pale doesn’t begin to describe it. It was practically iridescent, transparent and bloodless, colored by long-lost pigmentation that had made me look a salmon color at times and gave me an olive complexion in the summer months. But that was when things were clear to me and I understood the memories. That was in the good years with the other people whose names I’d forgotten. Still for a man of seventy-two I’m not doing too badly, I thought, and then I thought about the number and wondered if that was right or if I was just making it up for some effect or other. I wasn’t certain.
Sanja’s clarion call came echoing up the stairs, barking our departure for the party and I gulped down my concerns about the bathing suit, grabbed a striped shirt and headed off to meet the person who would change my world for some sort of better. Or so it would seem. I think.