3 — You Have Nothing to Lose . . .
In my search for literature, I began making discreet inquiries.
Discreet, because, in Las Vegas, it is wise to disguise this particular weakness. Other weaknesses are okay. Pathological gamblers are a dime a dozen. Shopoholics streak up and down the boulevard . Gourmands proudly parade their generous girths and skinny legs. Problem drinkers smile sappily at everyone. But readers . . . readers are freaks.
I asked concierges, gift shoppe proprietors, box office agents, waitresses (who can read menus), purveyors of beverages on casino floors (who are adept at reading labels), and perfect strangers who exhibited glimmers of intelligence: Do you know of a book shoppe on The Strip? I asked.
The identical response every time: the shoplifter-caught-in-the-act look, the teeth-sucking intake of breath, the curt shake of the head, and the silent self-addressed questions: Should I call security? ls there a crazy loose on The Strip?
Every morning I and my companions (wife Olga and daughter Laura) sought out a breakfast venue. Olga was reading a J.D. Robb. No comment. Laura was reading one of my books. Very smart gal. Anyway, at first we chose the resort’s in-house restaurant, where a no-frills breakfast cost just slightly less than a down payment on a Lear jet. I soon got smarter, started looking further afield. That morning I chose a sidewalk cafe. On the way we passed a window facing the street, and what should I spy?
Genuine literature. Softcover and hardcover.
Yes. Yes. I inquired within. There were no signs advertising books. The shoppe, Urban Outfitters, stocked souvenir-type merchandise but still it had books. I bought three: The Lost Language Edition, Dirty French, and Literary Rogues.
What was The Lost Language Edition all about? “A collection of forgotten-yet-delightful words, phrases, praises, insults, idioms, and literary flourishes from eras past.” Very useful for Vegas. E.g., scanties means panties, as in “Now, dear, I just lost our house, but don’t get your scanties in a knot.” Kicksy-wicksy means restless, as in “After losing our house, buying three time shares, and consuming 9,000 calories in a single sitting, I’m feeling kicksy-wicksy. I think I’ll go read.” And dumb-foozled means how it sounds. It’s how you feel right now.
Dirty French allows you to slag off your anglophone companions without provoking a physical assault. Qui c’est qui a pété? means Who farted? Ta mere est en string à la télé means Your mother is wearing a thong on television. And a real ice-breaker is Puis-je te tripoter les lolos?, which means Can I squeeze your boobs?
Literary Rogues bills itself as “a scandalous history of wayward authors”. For instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald. He wrote a best-seller (This Side of Paradise) which no one remembers today. He wrote a literary flop (The Great Gatsby) which everyone remembers today. And he wrote numerous short stories and essays and screen plays, strictly for the cash. He hoped they would die with him, and they did. F. Scott Fitzgerald was the prototype of the current Tom Clancy.
Even with these literary gems to tide me over, I was kicksy-wicksy.
Surely there were more books in Vegas. Surely there were genuine readers in Vegas.
Olga said, What about the university? They must have books.
What’re the odds?