Msbehaved: Las Vegas, the Horses, and Reaching the Finish Line
I opened my eyes, and it was dark. I was moving in a silent lull. I could hear the radio playing quietly in the background, but it was so quiet that it was indistinguishable. ‘Where was I?I wondered.’ I laid there, quiet, silent, unsure, and unmoving. A new smell had reached my nose. It was unknown for the moment, yet familiar. It was the smell of a new car. I held on to the make shift blanket atop me, after seeing the strings, I recognized it as my shawl. My vision began to come back to me, and I noticed the window. Outside of it there were speckles of white, hypnotizing flakes. It was snowing, but it was May, I thought. In the darkness the trees were far back in the background, barely visible, but covered in white. I was sleeping in the front seat of a car, but whose car? Who was driving? Where was I going? All of those questions and confusion had registered within me within the first few seconds of awakening. Then, it finally came to me. The rental car. I looked over to the drivers seat and there was a focused little Asian man driving, it was T. We were driving through the night to go to Kingman, Arizona. You see, I went to Vegas earlier that week. I went there with a boyfriend and a car, and I came back with neither. T and I were on our way to get one of them.
Earlier that night, at 2:00 AM and my alarm was going off. In the pure darkness of my room I could hear my CD alarm clock begin to spin the disk that it encapsulated. The low, lull of Radiohead began to fill the room. Each morning when I heard it, instead of waking me up it whisked me away to another place, another time and I drifted back into a trance, back to a different country. Then from my nightstand, my phone entered the darkness. ‘Tap for snooze’ it said. I did. I laid there buried under layers of make shift pajama’s, the hoodie that comforted me the most, and a flowery duvet, I hid my head under it completely. I was engulfed. I asked myself why on earth were my alarms going off at this hour? Did I fuck up my alarm? Was I dreaming? What day was it? Did I have to go to work? Those were all of the questions that ran through my head. The answer was Kingman. Kingman, Arizona. I had to go get T, and we had to drive there through the night, or at least that’s what he told me to do. I was so broken and worn at that point in my life, that anyone giving me direction on how to proceed was welcomed. If T said we had to leave at 2:30 AM, then, we had to leave at 2:30 AM.
My dog was now aware that I was awake, and he was confused. It seemed that even he knew something was different. Then, as he does, gave me this sad look that he gave when he knew I was about to leave him. I hated that look, it was always heartbreaking, but knew that I had to go. T said. I pulled my duvet and placed my pillows ‘just right’ on my make shift bed, a futon laid flat that I’d slept on for years. I got up and managed to pull some clothes on, ones that would leave me looking like I hadn’t driven all night. It looked, instead, as though I just came in from a night out. I looked slightly hungover and wore slightly wrinkled skinny jeans, a black top, and the hoodie that I slept in. It was black and from Mother Board Brewery in Flagstaff, Arizona.
I grabbed a tiny pillow from my bed and my black fringed shall. Each accompanied me with their own distinct memories, and those memories comforted me. That was why I took them. Then, I grabbed my backpack, a toothbrush, and my emergency overnight bag (a Ziploc with a collection of tiny toiletries from the hotels I’ve frequented, strictly in tact for impromptu Vegas trips). Oh, and my full sized wine bladder. Filled.
Finally, I packed the car with what I thought I needed and it was time to go. With his big brown sad eyes, he looked up at me, knowingly. “I’m sorry buddy, I gotta go. Zoe will be here, and she’ll take care of you. I’m so sorry buddy. Bedtime.” With one last ruffling of his coat, he sadly walked towards his crate and got in. I felt horrible. With my tired, half drunk eyes I squinted for the bulky rental car fob and I pushed in my alarm code with my slightly numb fingers, 1-9-4-0. Why did I drink so much wine last night? Outside of my door everything was still. The outside world had no memory of what had happened or no knowledge of what was about to. The cool air greeted me under the dim porch light.
I arrived at what I could remember was T’s apartment complex…was this the place he showed me last night? I questioned myself. I wasn’t sure. In the darkness of the early morning and the haze still in my head, I scanned the balconies of each complex in search of the jungle that he had grown to ‘keep people out.’ I supposed it was a good idea, I mean, who would want to weed through a bunch of plants just to break in? Too much effort, I thought. After driving in at 5 mph searching, there it was, just to my left. There were plants everywhere, tipped over, over grown, and just out of control. It was impossible to even see if there was an entrance behind them. Feeling a little weird, and oddly slightly nervous, I got out of the tiny little black sedan. I shut the door and once again, everything was still.
Tucked back into a nook within the complex, his door stood there in the dark, nestled between the walls with another door parallel. With my slightly shaky hand, I began to knock softly as to not disturb the neighbors. But, in the silence my knocks on his door could still be heard throughout the complex. The first knock was quiet. I stood there and wondered how he’d come to the door. The next knock was equally as quiet. My first attempts were polite. I wouldn’t want to wake up to someone banging on my door at 2:30 in the morning –wait, I have. I began to question why I was there. Did he change his mind? Would he lead me down a road of disappointment like other men in my life? I knocked and knocked with more enthusiasm, harder and harder. I called and knocked simultaneously, now impatient and worried. Finally, the door began to open and there stood a short, yet stout, half asleep Asian man. T.
He opened the door, turned around and walked deeper into his apartment without so much as a grunt. He was barefoot, in gray sweat pants, and an oversized shirt that looked more like a muumuu than a shirt. He never seemed to wear shirts that fit. May be he couldn’t find any. Maybe he didn’t like being small and the big shirts built up his confidence. He stopped at the counter, lit a cigarette, and disappeared down the hallway into his room. It left me time to look around. His place reminded me of something, but what? My breath was muffled by the thick, stagnate air of cigarette smoke. I didn’t think there had been a window open for years, nor was there any clue of a woman’s presence for an equal amount of time. The haze of air was slowly suffocating me, yet there was something soothing about it all. It came to me. It reminded me of my uncle’s house, my ‘drunkel’. Suddenly I was at ease.
Everything in his apartment was covered with years and years of cigarette smoke. It appeared as though it was never dusted, never wiped down, everything was just there. There was a sticky layer of film to which the dust and everything else clung to. The once beige sofa was now shades darker, covered with the same layer of film and dirt. And, there were more plants. They were as equally chaotic in his apartment as they were on the balcony and then there were random things. They were interesting. There was a big gold Budda statue stood by his door collecting loose change. Even more peculiar was that at the end of his hallway on his bedroom door was a mounted poster of ‘The Dude’ from the Big Lebowski. I couldn’t help but notice the enormous collection of liquor bottles half full, half empty, or nothing at all, just sitting there in the smog of his apartment.
He came out with what looked like the exact shirt he went in with, with a pair of jeans, black leather loafers with an old worn cotton ball cap that sat slightly sideways, almost hanging off of his head, a lit cigarette hung from his lip slightly to the right. He blended with the ambiance of his apartment. Meanwhile, all of this was happening in silence. As he approached where I stood, he simply said, “We need coffee,” and he didn’t break stride. He opened the door, stood there, and waited for me to walk through. He shut it, locked it, and we were on our way. By then it was nearly 3:00 AM. We were late.
As we walked to the car he spoke sternly to me and I felt like I was being scolded. In his unique version of English, he said, “Last night you plant a seed in my head,” pointing to his temple. While we walked towards the car I asked sheepishly, “What seed? What did I do now?” Walking towards the passenger side of the car looking blankly ahead, still smoking his cigarette, now placed between his right index and ring finger, “I Googled Laughlin and it only 30 mile from Kingman. 30 miles!” he exclaimed, “We go, bet horses there. We see when we get there,” That was the last thing he said for the next few minutes after he got into the car. Those few minutes felt like an eternity. I got in the driver seat and pushed the button to start the car. Without breaking my forward stare, I tried to make small talk. The silence was uncomfortable. I’d never spent any sober time with him. “You know it took me forever to figure out how to start this stupid car the first time? I received no reply. I was talking to myself. The hum of the car was all that occupied the air. But then, sharply piercing the silence was T’s voice, “Turn right, you turn left at light on Cambria, then you see Giant on right. We get coffee there.”
We pulled into the gas station. T said something to the cashier that was outside who was trying to fix one of the busted sprinklers while he marched in. And, that’s exactly what he did, he marched in. He was familiar with them. I could only guess that this was a part of his morning routine. We walked in and I could feel how at ease he was, yet I could feel their eyes and thoughts spinning. In the meantime, my eyes were trying to adjust to the brightness. T had probably walked into that gas station for coffee for years on his own and now he was this middle aged Asian man showing up in the middle of the night with some random chick, nearly half his age. My black hair was tied, my bangs parted just right, with the black eye liner pointing out my half blood shot, half green eyes. I wore flip flops so I didn’t tower over him like I usually did. I always felt weird about being taller than him with my usual high heel boots. I didn’t want to emasculate him. I always felt bad when I stood next to him in heels.
T didn’t skip a beat. While I was busy wondering what the cashiers must have thought, he went directly to the coffee. I wandered around the gas station leisurely looking at everything they had as though I was in a foreign country.
As I wandered and wondered what would go with the wine I snuck into the car, T small talked and joked with the cashier. He was a regular looking white guy who probably had cashier jobs his entire life with the hopes to one day build his dream car and win a local drag race. The idea was to capture the glory days of high school once again. I grabbed a bag of lays, a suicide sandwich, a handful of mustard packets, and a coffee. T stood there looking frustrated. He didn’t offer any special attention to me, nor did he insinuate anything between us. Instead, as I was paying the cashier asked, “Where are you going so early?” T replied on my behalf, “We’re going to get her fucking car in KINGMAN ARIZONA!” We walked out.
Away we went. As I sat there and we sipped our coffee, I was reminded of T’s philosophy. If you can sit in a car with someone for eight hours without killing each other, that was a signal of true friendship. I wondered what would happen. Could we make it? One time he told me that he was driving to Washington state from Albuquerque with his girlfriend, and he wanted to kill her within hours. So much so, that he tried to fly back, but he was in the middle of nowhere by the time he decided that enough was enough. He was stuck driving to Seattle with her. He said it was so bad, that as soon as they arrived there he went straight to the airport and flew back to Albuquerque. He was supposed to be moving there with her – I could only imagine how bad it got. We, on the other hand were still relatively quiet as we headed west on I 40. Then, he decided to speak again. “You stop at Route 66 Casino, that sushi and wasabi go right through me. I empty and then we go. And, more coffee.” That was a good way to remember the sushi we had the night before. I cringed and remembered that I was just one of the guys.
We were back on the freeway again. This time T was driving. I didn’t want to fall asleep on him. It was going to be a long drive. But I wondered, how do I stay awake? I knew how. I wanted wine. “T, I’m going to have some wine. Are you okay with that?” I asked. While drinking his coffee he didn’t take his eyes off the road, “Yeah, I don’t care. It your car, you do what you want.” I stretched the wine out to last just over three hours, a tough task but I wanted to keep him company. After coffee T began to open up, and I was at ease with some wine in me and we began to exchange stories. I’d heard most of his story’s many times, but I just listened and acted like it was my first time. His stories were one of the best parts of him. With a sly eye and voice he turned my way and said in a slight whisper, “You know why I drink vodka?” He answered his own question, “…because you not smell vodka.” I began to think about how and when I had met T...
…T and I met sometime the year before. He held a true Vietnamese name that I couldn’t quite get comfortable saying, Trung. So, for short, I, and everyone else, just called him T for simplicity. I didn’t remember exactly how I met him, but it was at the Grand Stand, adoringly referred to as the track. The track was and remains, a peculiar place that I was introduced to some years ago. I was brought there on a first date – but that’s a different story. The track evolved, and soon there was a brand new casino. They had cheaper wine. Over there, I always sat at the bar and, I had a bartender who would look the other way on most of my tabs. I morphed over to the new casino for that very reason, but I kept referring to it as the track. I was a creature of habit, even though it was really called the First Turn Lounge. The bar was ascetically pleasing, and that helped. There were silver stars in groups of three hanging from the ceiling that were put up for the first Christmas that they were opened, but were never taken down. They remained a part of the bar’s atmosphere.
It wasn’t long before my bartender had quit working at the casino and I had to find a new seat, one away from the bar. I wasn’t comfortable there without him but, I found a safe place. I sat at a table of gay men who bet the horses; affectionately to be known as ‘my gays’. For one reason or another T was sitting among them. I would get so very excited every time I saw him there. He was always so, wait…he was nice. I always squealed his name, “TEEEEEEEEEEE!” each time I saw him and I would hug him as hard as I could, sometimes I would lift him off of his feet. He pretended as though he didn’t like it, but, I think he did.
T had come to be something of a foundation in my life. We had always maintained a relationship where we never talked outside of the casino. We had met at the track each Saturday and Sunday for the past year though. I bugged him for his number, but he would never give it to me. He always did it out of respect. I always seemed to be in a relationship. And then, one day when he realized that I was in a fucked up relationship and he had to help, he finally gave me his card. Even then, when I’d text him through the week, he’d never reply. That was just how he was, and I was okay with that. That, was how I met T…
I looked up and I realized that we were approaching Flagstaff. In the early snowy, morning, I could see the snow capped peaks of the San Francisco mountains. I couldn’t handle it. I had finished my wine, and the idea of driving through Flagstaff and not stopping was just too much, especially atop of all that was happening. He was so close, but we’d just have to drive through. “T, I’m sleepy.” I told him. I was tired, but I just wanted to avoid driving through it, seeing it. “So, sleep then!” He barked, in the snowy blizzard that we drove into for the past two hours. I laid the seat back as much as possible, and nestled myself up against the side of the car with the only two comforts that I brought from home, my pillow and shawl. I closed my eyes and I couldn’t quite sleep, nor could I help but think about him, Vin. He was the one person who I had let go a long time ago and I shouldn’t have. In that moment, I began to lose myself into the thoughts of our beginnings…