This story isn't about the beginning; it's not even about me honestly. It's about this weird gravy freak chick I met in Vegas. It was the night Chris got VD from this redheaded zipper at The Mirage and I had seen this other girl, this brunette walking on her lonesome, away from the strip, and I decided to follow her. You can already kind of see why I haven't told this to anyone. I'd say like 35% of it had to do with the fact that my friends had just ditched me for these two zippers. (“Don't act all shocked man. Plus you said in the car that you weren't gonna CB. You said!” – Will a half hour before, leering like he was gonna fuck me too). Maybe 20% of it could be blamed on the Vodka Tonics I'd been steadily slurping since before we'd left the room. But most of it, honestly a fair 60% of it had to do with her hips, her pants, just the way she held herself man: oak brown hair tamed back in a tight pony tail, shoulders leading a confident dance with the curve of her spine, hips full, ass swaying back and forth like an apple shaped pendulum in black denim; I was hypnotized. It was like there was a secret in those jeans and if I let it just strut off the strip like this than it would damn me for the rest of my lonesome days. So yes, I followed her. I know it's weird. This is a ghost story.
She was carrying this white binder in her arms – heavy duty like a contractor's – and she had one thumb keeping place between the pages while she kept it mostly closed, opening it every few blocks before she'd turn left or right. It was shut besides that though; white reflecting the strip lights fuzzy and strange. This went on for a while, me following her around crowds of late night partiers – inebriety decorating their faces like clown paint – until her binder led us farther away from the strip. I remember thinking that the further we got, the more whatever fucked up magic that place held seemed to just peel away; it was like Vegas had spread itself open and let me in to see what was really inside. And what was in there, man? Shadows. The same cookie cutter drunks and fast food joints you'd see in any city at 2 in the morning. It was enough to make a guy feel like crap; and honestly I would have turned around and walked the however miles back to the strip had it not been for her. As weird as it sounds I felt attached to her in whatever way; in a lot of ways to be honest.
Really I had no idea how long I'd been walking after her when she finally stopped in front of Hurley's Big Hawaiian BBQ but it had been long enough to where my drunk was all but completely gone and I was starting to feel a little stupid. I was back about 15 yards, she was reading something out of her binder, and yes her ass looked really hot – the synthetic orange from the sign practically gave it a halo (yes, it looked fantastic) – but why was I there in the first place? I knew I'd always been the proverbial 3rd wheel; I was too wiry, my nose was too big and my eyes too milky for anyone to look at me and see something anyone would call “beautiful” but this was really a new low. What the hell kind of guy goes all the way to Las Vegas to walk after some random zipper with a Spam & Noodles fetish? A sign in the window read: Every Meal Comes With Macaroni Salad! No Substitutions, No Excuses, No Mercy!
I was considering calling a cab back to the room when she walked inside – ha-ching, ha-ching – taking her swinging pocket watch of an ass with her. Desperate I turned towards the heavens for guidance and, seeing only a fat neon man holding a coconut and guitar case, I followed her inside – stalk-er, ha-ching.
The joint was mostly empty. There was a table with about four kids, wasted. One of them was passed out or was dead or something and the rest were putting on a little show acting out the three stages of drunken grief: delirious laughter, embarrassed anger, bored acceptance. At the counter a little old man sat alone, his body was so small and his glasses so thick that he looked like something you might order out of a Precious Moments catalog: Lil Ol' Gwampa Swoop Sipper. And then there was her: head buried in the menu so all I could see was the top of her ponytail, the base of my yo-yo string. She was at a great big booth by her lonesome; the sign in front said “Please Seat Yourself”.
“So you're him for tonight huh?” she said once I'd sat down on the other end of the booth. She didn't look up from her menu and at once I felt like the biggest perv on the planet.
“Hold on, all this time and you're a....”
“A prostitute?” she said laughing, “That's new...” she finally puts the menu down and I can see her face for the first time. Her jaw is too square and her eyes too dull a brown to be anything close to the angel I'd imagined, but that only endeared her to me more; we'd both had a tough time of things. “No I'm not a hooker...though I could be a type of one if you think about it.”
The fuck do I say to that?
“I'm Robert.” Like an idiot.
“Then, a lesson for you Robert.” And I'm full on expecting her to bust out with something like 'If you're gonna go around following zippers' or something like that but instead she busts out with: “The ancient Egyptians invented gravy, not the French. They would just shoot it straight, with dinner, entire sauce boats of it like it was nothing. And sure we can look back on that now and say 'yeah that's dangerous those people might have had a problem' but they really knew how to get down back then.” She looked around with those big standard issue eyes, leaned in conspiratorially, and whispered “I have it on pretty good info that King Tut himself was nothing but a sauce head, Robert. And when he died at the ripe old age of 18 it was no assassination. It was G.O.D., the first ever case.”
She leaned back in her seat, smug. “Smart boy.”
The waiter came then, a bored looking dark kid with big gauges and an arm full of tattoos. His name tag called him “Ron”.
“You ready?” Ron asked with a sigh.
She pushed the menu into his hands. “I'm going to have your Gravy Golden Katsu Plate and a large avocado shake.”
“All-right gold-en-gra-vy, and-you?” he took her order just like that, in these automatic, clichéd, sing-songy bursts that – on top of everything else, as you might understand – really threw me off.
“Um. Spam.” I said. “Spam & Noodles. You guys have that here right? Like...it's Hawaiian?”
“Like a roasted apple up a pig's ass.” Ron said, jerking the menu from my dumb little fingers and stalking off. “It'll be just a minute.”
She looked at me. “Spam?”
“Yeah well. I heard it's what killed Churchill.” I said – recovery. She gave me a little smirk -- congratulations. “Man, so, what a night huh?” -- idiot. “I was at The Palm earlier with my friends and that was cool you know, we had some drinks, we had a good time but then they found these trashy girls and they just totally ditched me as always.”
She nods all pseudo-polite and starts going through her fucking binder right there at the table, which – you know – hurt, honestly.
“I don't know what I expected to get out of this.” I admit, though I'm not exactly sure how far back that statement goes. “Viva Las Vegas. Deep is the abyss.”
She's still looking at the binder and I'm thinking again about getting up and leaving when she says, “You've heard of Plato's caves right?”
“Is that off the strip?”
“Mmmm-mmnnn. Not off, on. In Plato's caves all of humanity are just chained to these walls watching shadows flicker and calling that real life. Meanwhile there's this entire other world out there outside the caves full of actual, perfect things, not just bullshit copies. Plato says that once you find these things, only then have you found truth.”
“I like that.” I said. “It's like once you've found that right one thing for yourself that's when you can finally start to live life.”
She shook her head, suddenly, in these tight little gestures. “No Robert. You're not getting me. That's not what he's saying at all.”
And it feels like a hard shove. My neck jerks, I'm taken aback, just far back enough for Ron to slip in with our plates. “You have everything you need?” He asks and she lets out this abrupt, dismissive snort that – for some reason – makes Ron grin like a god damn Cheshire Cat.
“I certainly hope so” she says and he looks at her like he speaks her language, like he's inside of her and I'm that 3rd wheel once again: spinning my own axle, slowing everybody down.
He leaves, thankfully, without her so much as glancing back at him. She's too busy with her plate: a mound of reddish brown gravy slathered over these poor slabs of katsu like there's been an accident, like we're going to have to call in the search and rescue. And she's just glaring at it, man. There's a fire in her eyes that wasn't there before, like the Chef got mixed up and accidentally served her a serial rapist instead of her chicken and gravy.
“It's going to be too salty” she says.
I almost say, "well then send it the fuck back" but by then she'd already cut half a slab of it and put it between her lips. I sat there watching her chew for a good half minute before I realized that my own food was just sitting there getting cold right in front of my face. Honestly!
I reached for my fork and she sat up. “This isn't it at all.” She opened her binder, impatient, flustered, and not at all like the girl with the self-assured spine that I'd seen back on the strip. She pulled a tenner from a fold in the inner cover and slapped it onto the table.
“Wait, where are you going? You didn't even tell me your name.”
“Sorry Robert I don't have time for footsie. I have 2 more stops to make tonight.”
“Wait!” She went to pick up her binder and I leaned over and slammed my hand down on it. She looked up at me, her eyes dulled again, her lips pursed tight. Somewhere, I heard Ron clear his throat.
“Let me go with you.”
She closed her eyes and laughed a bit through her teeth. “Poor bloodhound. You smell the gravy on me and you think it's love. You're better than most but you've got it all mixed up. Listen to me plainly: once you find truth, that's when you start to die. It's about deliverance. That's what he meant.” Having gotten her composure back she grabbed her away and slipped back off into the abyss. Ha-ching ha-ching.
I sat there, by myself, listening to Ron roll his mop bucket around the floor for as long as I could stand. Then I figured 'fuck it' and finished both the plates. The gravy was a little too salty. The Spam was pretty good.