Friday, December 3, 2010

Vintage Vegas

Everyone has a Vegas story, and while mine doesn't involve amnesia, Mike Tyson or Bengal tigers, it is still worth telling, I think.

I was all of twenty three, and my live in boyfriend, Hal, had arranged for us to go to Las Vegas with a local drag queen named Sean De Lear. We were going to see The B52's play at the Excalibur and go backstage, courtesy of Miss De Lear. I have been a fan of the B52's since I first heard "Rock Lobster" and find "Dance this mess Around" and "Aint it a Shame" to be two of the most fun-to-sing-in the-shower songs ever written.
We rented a car, a Dodge Intrepid, because none of us drove a reliable enough vehicle to make the trip without getting stranded at XXYYZZ Road. On the way out of town, we stopped for snacks. Hal decided to purchase a mini keg of Asahi Beer to keep Miss De Lear and him company on the five hour plus journey through the desert. Being young and stupid, I didn't see anything wrong with it. Aside from the fact that it's ILLEGAL, I was the only one driving and wasn't going to drink, so in the grand scheme of things it seemed insignificant. That was before we got pulled over.

Just before Barstow, in the middle of nowhere, sirens appeared in the rear-view mirror. The cop said over the speaker to pull over at the next exit, which was an overpass to nothing. There was desert on one side and desert on the other. I did as he requested. Sean de Lear murmured something about how this situation wasn't optimum for a barefoot, black drag queen. I stopped the car on the deserted shoulder of the overpass and waited. The cop approached and knocked on the window with his gloved knuckle. He was a stout, fortyish guy with receding red hair and a moustache. I rolled the window down. He looked at me, almost surprised, and said "Have you been drinking?". I said no, since I hadn't. He laughed and said "Well, I got hit in the face with a blast of alcohol when you rolled down the window! Somebody is drinking in this car!" I tried to act surprised but eventually gave up, as it was clear that he knew that I knew that they were drinking when they weren't supposed to be.

He took everyone's ID and went back to his cruiser. Sean de Lear sighed heavily and said something like "Well, we've done it now honey". Hal looked back at the cop sitting in the cruiser and said quietly, "He's going to call for back up". I asked why, and he pulled a black plastic film canister out of his pocket. I didn't need to ask what was inside, I just told him to get rid of it. He couldn't get out of the car without arousing suspicion, so we sat and waited, discussing the potential jail time for possession of marijuana and sweating. The cop returned to the car and instructed Hal to get out and dump the beer. Hal picked up the mini keg and opened the door. He walked to the front of the car, set the keg on the hood and pushed in the tab. We could hear the beer splatter hitting the ground from inside the car. Sean let out a giggle and said "Reminds me of being home on the farm...". Hal casually lit a cigarette and leaned on the hood, watching the beer spill onto the ground.

We all heard the sound of tires on gravel and turned to see a second cop car with the letters "K-9" painted in black on the side. The first cop walked over to him, presumably to explain the situation. They spoke for a few minutes and then the second cop got out and opened the back door. A German Shepard bounded out and immediately began sniffing anything and everything. It looked just like the dog I had growing up, who had come to us with the name Shiksa. She was a terrific, loyal dog that would never have alerted the police that I was hiding drugs. She was no rat. This dog's name was Bruno. The first cop instructed Hal to come back around to the side of the car. He asked me to pop the trunk and exit the vehicle. He asked Sean to get out and stand next to the car. We all did as we were told and waited for Bruno to come and sniff us right to jail.

He started in the front seat and made his way to the back seat, into the trunk and on the ground around the back of the car. The second cop rummaged through our suitcases in the trunk, eventually coming across Sean de Lear's bag. Sean wasn't actually in drag at that moment, though he was wearing false eyelashes, so the discovery of some long black wigs, satin brassieres, feather boas, makeup and stiletto boots was a little awkward. The cop asked whose bag it was a couple of times as he searched. I fought the urge to say "Do I look like the patent leather stiletto boot type?". Sean claimed it as his with a casual raise of his hand. The cop pulled out a small metal army issue matchbox and shook it. "What's in here?" he asked. "Matches....", Sean said, shrugging a little, as if the question was a bit silly. The cop smiled and asked if Sean had family in the military, and he nodded and said coyly, "My Daddy was a marine...". The cop tossed the metal case back in the bag of ladies clothes and stepped away from the vehicle. He looked to the second cop with Bruno sitting patiently by his side and said "We're done here". He handed me a ticket, explaining that I'd been doing eighty nine miles per hour and had also incurred the open container violation. Most of what he said was a blur because I knew that the canister that Hal had been carrying was filled with extremely potent, skunky, stinky ganja and somehow Bruno the wonder dog had missed it. We all got back in the car and waited for the two cop cars to pull away. They sat, window to window, and chatted for a few minutes, so we decided to go while the getting was good. Sean let out a dramatic sigh and said, " Lord have mercy, I was sure I'd be running naked and barefoot across them catcuses while they used my black ass for target practice....". We all laughed. I asked Hal where he had stashed the film canister, and he pointed to the front of the car with a sly smile. "It's wedged in the grille". Sean high fived him and pulled out the metal matchbox that was in his bag. He shook it and said " Matches? Sorry Occifer, try four hits of acid and a fat old chunk of hash!!" I was a little freaked when he said acid, because that particular drug carried exceptionally harsh sentences. I can imagine that taking it across state lines would have compounded the issue significantly. Note to self- inquire about illicit substances when traveling with relative strangers. Their recreational habits can put a damper on a vacation if discovered by law enforcement.

About ten minutes down the road, the sirens appeared again. This time I had been going the speed limit. Had Bruno had a change of heart? We pulled over a second time. The cop got out and ran up to the passenger side window. Hal rolled down the window. The cop said "Just wanted to let you know that you have a warrant out for your arrest, Son, so you might want to get that taken care of when you come back". Hal thanked him and rolled up the window. As we drove away, Sean said sweetly, " Awwww, he liiiikkkesss you, Hal...". I looked at him in the rear-view mirror, laughing, and asked if his dad was actually a Marine. He nodded, adding that his father's favorite extra curricular activity was to cruise off the base with his drinking buddies and go beat up queers. I nodded back, not sure what to say. We drove in silence for awhile, and eventually they both fell asleep.

We made it to the Excalibur just in time to shower and change and get to the show. Once in the lobby, we navigated our way, single file, through the castle themed slot machines and past tables of people winning at craps and losing at roulette. With all the different casino noises- the dinging, the beeping, the yelling, the whooping-I got a little sensorily overloaded and trailed Hal and Sean like a reluctant puppy. I was about six feet behind Sean when I started hearing other sounds over the general casino din. The first sound I could make out was the tail end of "What the hell is THAT?"-uttered by a red faced button-down wearing slob who stared at Sean's ass as he walked by. The next was "What IS that thing?", uttered by someone I never laid eyes on, but whose voice cut through the noise enough that I am certain Sean heard him. The comments came like mortar fire as we weaved through the tables, machines and throngs of people to get to the feel-good zone of the B-52's concert. "Disgusting","Oh my God!" " Did you see that?" "What was that?". I was flabbergasted. I mean, Las Vegas is supposed to be a playground for freaks, right? The Shane's Inspiration of the adult world, where everyone can come and have a enjoyable time and no one is excluded for being different. Granted it was 1992, but it hadn't occurred to me that there would be a freak pecking order. These people must have had their freak meters set on high because Sean was hardly a beefy, hairy, ham fisted dude clomping around in stiletto boots and a spandex tube dress with a five o'clock shadow growing up through his pancake makeup. He possessed the waif like, tall, graceful qualities that all men who want to be women envy. He was the epitome of non-threatening, and was beautiful as a man or a woman. Most importantly, he was a lovely person. I walked in his wake through the crowd, glaring at the people who stared and whispered and said such cruel, unnecessary things. I tried to stay close, just in case anyone felt the need to reach out and touch him. I didn't expect to find humanity in Las Vegas, but maybe a little more tolerance.

The show was fabulous, and the crowd was extremely friendly, but the whole experience for me was marred by our walk through the hostile villagers. All they were missing were torches and weapons. The back stage passes never worked out, and Sean met up with a friend and disappeared until the next morning. The rest of our trip is a blur- drinking, smoking, slots, average food-Las Vegas sucked.

We got up early the next day, had a disgusting buffet and packed up the car. We picked up an extremely hung over Sean at a different hotel and left. I got another speeding ticket on the way out of town and vowed never to rent a Dodge Intrepid again. My 1984 Chevy Sprint never would have gone fast enough to destroy my driving record in less than twenty four hours.

I never saw Sean again, except in the society pages of the LA Weekly. He sang with a band and hosted various events around town. Hal and I broke up soon after, and I moved out. Hal had insisted on installing a hydroponic grow house in our hall closet. I couldn't handle the stress of the helicopters hovering at night, wondering when they were coming through the front door with battering rams and DEA vests to confiscate Hal's marijuana. It was well enough hidden that I could have claimed ignorance, but that didn't work out so well with the beer now, did it? We already got our free pass in Barstow, and I was pretty sure they gave you more than a ticket for cultivation of controlled substances. What happens in Vegas does not actually stay in Vegas, contrary to the ubiquitous ad campaign. It haunts you for the rest of your life.

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