Las Vegas, Nevada: Day One
For Kerensa, whom swore to me if I got married, she would take me to Las Vegas and introduce me to the burly guys at Chippendale’s and the Bettie Page clothing shop in Sin City for the ultimate bachelorette party.
I’m still holding you to your promise to see the Absinthe Show, and you better take me to see Penn and Teller!
For my second favorite band (now one-man show) Panic! At the Disco, which the albums Death of a Bachelor and Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! inspired this novel,
For my love-hate relationship with my literary journalism professor Dr. Stacy Spaulding, who showed this awesome documentary about Hunter S. Thompson,
And for every starving rock and roll journalist who dreams of becoming the next Cameron Crowe or Kate Hudson, or dreams of becoming a musician themselves
I was there with you too.
I was safe in the bathroom away from the crazy drunk girls when I started writing.
One Night in Vegas
Woke up this morning around 6pm
Felt like I was stumbling to
I’ve had too much to think
Or too much to drink
Too much to wink
Somebody help me
Some dude grabbed my ass
Said, baby where you from
God forgive me
Devil let me go
I’m trying so hard
To be so good
“Just one night in Vegas”
Forgive me if I sinned
I heard screaming and loud laughter coming from outside the women’s room. That was enough to break me out of the zone from writing a more poetic second verse. Though I wasn’t so sure I wanted to keep the ass grabbing part of the verse.
Some girl, I eventually recognized as Sam the bride, my over-30s cousin the lucky bachelorette, shouted, “WHERE’S THAT FUCKING SOBER WHORE?”
I heard laughing. I could see slightly bigger feet than mine wearing gorgeous red Chuck Taylors. My big sister Jo was looking for me, pounding on the stall doors.
“Rebecca?” Jo called.
“Shit,” I whispered as I hid my memo pad and pen in my purse. I pushed myself onto the toilet seat and tried to hide my feet and legs. Good thing I was wearing jeans and a t shirt, even though I was sweating through my pants and the lightest shirt I brought with me to this Las Vegas Girl Bachelorette Party, as Sam called it. Sober Sam was fun. We had a lot of fun together whenever I saw her in Baltimore while my aunt and uncle were still married. But whenever she got drunk, she was Samzilla, or now that her wedding was getting close, Sam the bride or Bridezilla, for she was a stupid, cruel drunk and a narcissist to boot.
Maybe she should be on the drugs I’m on to keep me sane. And no, I’m not talking about something worse than recreational marijuana, I got these drugs from a real doctor.
But Jo pushed the last door, my door, anyway and said, “I know you’re in here, little sis.”
Good thing I locked the door. But I was scared she was going to get the janitor or curl her body under the door and find me, like the skilled gymnast that she was. I was the fat kid in elementary school, she was the skinny Stepford Child athlete. That was until I started getting into ice figure skating in middle and high school, before my diagnosis. Jo was there when I took a year off before going to college, and she was the one who gave me this big intervention, signing me up for psychotherapy.
Fortunately, if she didn’t make me see a therapist and a psychiatrist, I would be a blitzed out nervous wreck like poor Amanda Bynes, and I would be in my mother’s mental hospital. My soul is incomplete without my sister.
She knocked on my door using our secret ‘safe’ code. Shave and a haircut. “Becca, you in there?”
I tried to do my best impression of Roger Rabbit by saying, “Out of order! Plplplplease use another door!”
I think it sucked because Sam the bride was laughing hysterically. Then she turned to the front door where someone else was holding it back and said, “Found her! We found Jessica Rabbit!”
I heard snickering, then Jo barked, “Get out of here, all of you bimbos.” The stupid hyenas left. “All right, Roger in the red blouse, come on out.”
Sometimes I hate my sister too. I unlatched the door and pulled it open, getting off the toilet and stepping out.
First thing she said when I came out: “Are you sick or hurt?”
“No,” I said.
“Did someone sexually assault you?”
“What were you doing in there?”
“Sorry, a song came to my head, I don’t know where it came from. I needed a little quiet time. It’s too crazy out there for me.”
She got pissed. “What were you thinking? Dummy girl! This is a party!”
She put her hands on my face, locked eyes with me, and said, “Stop! Working! Vacation means NO work, stupid!”
“Then why did I have to use my fake ID again?” I said.
“Girl, this is Vegas,” Jo said. “I wanted to bring you here because you’re turning 21 in just a few hours! And the best way to celebrate turning 21 is going to a bachelorette party for a friend we know!”
“Sam is our half cousin on dad’s side,” I said. “She’s been wanting to get married since she was 18. She’s related to Uncle Denny by his first girlfriend, his favorite little girl, before he married Aunt Lucia. And since our parents died, Uncle Denny, who is a millionaire, is leaving us with nothing in his will, and since the separation, Aunt Lucia has been living in a trailer park in Virginia. Good thing we were already legal by then.”
“No, I was legal, you were no longer a minor, there’s a difference,” she said. “You were looking for jobs and volunteer work and you were constantly getting banned from places because of your attitude.”
“Actually, it was one library, and they banned me for no more than 30 days.”
“Do you remember that time at the Orange Julius?”
“Trying not to think about it. That’s why I’m on anticonvulsants and a combo anti-depressant-psychotic.”
“What about your first semester at college where you cussed out a testing center proctor?” she said.
“Ok! Ok! I get it! Back off! I’m sorry.”
Jo hugged me and said, “I want to get your mind off all this. Stop writing stupid crap that’s never going to get published by an editor and come have fun with us. We’ve only got three days to celebrate before we take our airfare home! We have to be gone by Monday!”
“What’s so special about Monday anyway?” I said when she let me go.
She rolled her eyes at me. “Just come with me, doofus.”
We got to our table by the bar, and Sam the bride and her two other friends in the bridal party were getting trashed. When we took our seats, the others had knocked their heads back, draining the shots, throwing down the glasses on the table, and yelping in splendor.
Sam had the biggest yell, for she as the bachelorette of this party, was the drunkest I’d seen her. She was going to feel all of that tomorrow.
“Whassup Sin City, city of sin bitches!!!” Sam screamed. “It’s my BACHELORETTE PARTY! AND I’M THE BACHELORETTE, BABY!”
Fuck, this girl was wasted. Somebody get her a water and a black coffee, nothing in it.
And this was also why I didn’t drink. Not recently, anyway. I hadn’t had any alcohol in two years, and back then, it was my first time sipping it and I hated the stuff. I also didn’t like being drunk either, because it interfered with my medicine, making me dizzy, drowsy, and all kinds of sick.
Sam’s maid of honor was Elizzie, whom didn’t like anyone calling her Elizabeth, Beth, Bethie, or Lizzie. She was thin and kind of pretty with her long, thin brown hair and model like figure, but she had a tattoo on her arm of Tim Curry as the transsexual in Rocky Horror Picture Show. That tattoo always freaked me out, which is why I always tried to ignore it and look at her face, also why my skin is virgin: I have no piercings or tattoos anywhere. I don’t really like the idea of puncturing holes in my body to show any kind of artistry. Most importantly, I have very dry, sensitive skin everywhere, and my doctor said that I had a kind of ear infection that prevented me from getting my ears pierced. Some kind of dust behind my ears, that’s what he called it when I was eleven.
I especially can’t get my ears pierced now because I’m more vulnerable to stress induced migraines. Long story.
The next song on the radio started turning my stomach inside out. “Baby Roll with Me” by Cindi Weber. I think pretty much mostly everybody I knew hated her guts for being a prostitute. But Sam the bride screamed, “Holla! I love this song,” when it came on.
I was searching through my purse to find my headphones and iPod when my sister Jo put her hand over mine to stop me and said, “Bex, uh-uh. Tune it out, girl.”
“You don’t like this song, Beckie?” Elizzie said.
“That’s a misconception,” I said. “I hate the singer.”
“Yeah, Liz,” Jo said. “She violently hates her. Violently. Long story about how that happened.”
“Cindi Weber is completely obnoxious,” I stated.
“Hey, what did we say about opinions?” Jo said. “We don’t say them if we don’t want to hurt people. You can have an opinion, as long as you don’t offend someone’s pride.”
“So what music do you like anyway, if not Cindi Weber?” Elizzie said.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Pretty much anything that isn’t pop. Although, I think Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are pretty cool. I just never got into their first hit songs on the radio. I know, I’m not considered a ‘real’ fan.”
“You didn’t like ‘I Kissed a Girl’?” she said. “What is wrong with you? That is the coolest song ever! She’s saying she was drunk and she made a mistake, but she’s still got her integrity and she’s going back to her boyfriend later!”
“Yeah, and the reason why the FCC took the song off the radio was because it promoted more girls to become lesbians,” Jo said.
“What’s wrong about being lesbian?” Elizzie said. That’s another thing, Elizzie is bisexual, for she brought her transgender girlfriend with her.
“Nothing,” Jo said. “I’m just saying the FCC were being stupid when they did that.”
“They are still part of the government, you know,” I said. “At least Obama signed the law legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states in 2016. Pride Week in June is still pretty big right now, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Hells to the YEAH!” Sam the bride said.
I shook my head, pulled out my memo pad and pen, and started writing again. I still didn’t have a beat or melody for the song I was writing, so I figured it would just be another dumb poem for my collection. I wrote a gazillion of those poems already.
“What are you writing?” Elizzie said, looking over my left hand holding the pen, drawing air circles around the blank area I left for the second part of the verse, but coming up with nothing. It was way too loud for me to concentrate. In a quiet setting, I could write with either my left or right hand if I practice enough. But, in a more crowded space, especially in school, I’m better left handed. Though for some reason, my right hand is always better at typing, I don’t know why. For a QWERTY keyboard, the most used keys are on the left, and the lesser are on the right. Whatever, I’m weird.
So I closed the memo pad and said, “Nothing, just something for the wedding toast.”
“Gimme that, lemme see,” she said, snagging the little book from my hand and opening it to the first page:
Rebecca’s top 5 favorite bands-
1- One man show Panic! At the Disco (after Ryan Ross and Spencer Smith left the band and Brendon Urie was the only one left- Everybody loves Death of a Bachelor, the record that won his first Grammy, but my favorite is Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!, taken from Hunter S. Thompson, my favorite journalist. The last song “The End of All Things” was written two days before Brendon’s wedding to the woman he wrote the song “Sarah Smiles” for, and they were intentionally his wedding vows in song form -I want my dream guy to do this for me)
2- Fall Out Boy (because of their album Mania, ’nough said.)
3- Fleetwood Mac (just cause of the song in Guardians of the Galaxy, I love Lindsey Buckingham)
4- The Killers (Brandon Flowers is my number two celebrity crush)
5- Walk the Moon (most psychotherapeutic rock band ever- What if Nothing is the shit!)
“Wait, don’t tell me you think your favorite band is a solo artist?!” Elizzie said.
“Brendon technically is the only one left,” I said. “But he still kept the band name. And he does have a band that tours with him. He’s kind of like Jeff Lynne, you know? Jeff Lynne plays all the instruments himself and writes all of his songs, but his band title is Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Electric Light Orchestra.”
The bachelorette party girls stared at me.
Then the bride shouted, “GIRL, YOU’RE SUCH A GEEK! THAT’S IT! YOU NEED A SHOT!”
She left, nearly stumbling and falling on her face to get out of her chair, and drunkenly sauntering to the bar. The other girls laughed.
I don’t know why I hang with them anyway.
They also forgot about my 21st birthday tomorrow. My guess is this same thing is going to happen and the girls are going to take me to a Vegas bar and try to get me drunk, when I’ve told them that I have to be sober at all times because I’m on extremely strong medicine for my dysfunctional brain. People with mental illnesses are not allowed to drink, I’ve told them over and over again, but they refuse to listen. And even if I did drink, I would have to ask the bartender for a gallon of water to keep hydrated, and most importantly, I have to ask what ingredients are in the drink, because I can’t have grapefruit because of Latuda.
That said, I have no idea what I want to do for my birthday party tomorrow. All I wanted to do when I got to Vegas was to see the Grand Canyon and a Penn and Teller magic show. I’ve always loved sleight of hand and I love nature most of all. Call me a John Denver.
Jo took my hand and said, “Becca, I hate to tell you this, but Panic! At the Disco is not a real band. Fifth Harmony is a band. One Direction is a band. Panic! At the Disco is a one man shit show.”
“Jo, I hate to tell you also,” I said. “Fifth Harmony and One Direction are stupid, pathetic singing hoes who don’t play any instruments. They don’t even write their own shit! Brendon Urie writes his own songs and he plays almost every single instrument: piano, guitar, bass, he’s got serious mad skills on the drums, especially on the song ‘Crazy=Genius’! I can’t play drums to save my life, I’ve barely got any rhythm! I couldn’t play a xylophone in elementary school anyway!”
Jo laughed. “Pathetic? You’re pathetic!”
I sipped my water. “Yeah, well, the people you listen to have no talent. Except for Lady Gaga in that movie soundtrack she did with Bradley Cooper. And Adele.”
The bride came over and handed me a shot glass with some funny pink liquid in it. She snapped at me, “Drink it.”
“What’s in this?” I said. “Does it have grapefruit?”
“Shut the fuck up,” the bride said. “Just drink it, for fuck’s sake!”
“Gimme,” Jo said, taking the shot out of my hands and swirling it around, then smelling it. She took a tiny sip, swallowed, and handed it back to me. “I don’t taste any grapefruit in it. Grapefruit is too sour, and that stuff tastes like a Starburst candy. I think what you just got is a Princess Shot.”
“JUST DRINK IT!” the bride shouted.
“I don’t want to be hungover or in the hospital on my birthday tomorrow, please,” I said. “I’ll take one sip, I’m not going to drink it all.”
“I paid for that shot,” Sam the bride said. “You’re going to knock back the shot and not let it go to waste!”
“Come on, Beckie!” Elizzie said. “Let’s just say your birthday is today! It’s a good thing we got you that fake ID or you wouldn’t be able to come with us! And tomorrow, you’ll be able to use your real ID and get in because quite frankly as of midnight, you’re legal now!”
I shook my head and muttered, “Don’t call me Beckie or Becky, I hate that name.”
“Becca, come on!” Elizzie’s transgender partner Pat said. “Drink the damn drink! You’re the party princess now! We’ve only got three days in Vegas, we are getting you drunk!”
“Just think of it as an experiment,” Jo said. “We want to test your tolerance level.”
“My tolerance level is low,” I said in her ear. “I can’t even drink a cup of coffee without my heart pounding.”
The girls started chanting. “Princess! Princess! Princess! Princess!”
I finally gave in and said, “Hakuna Matata. Here’s to the Grand Canyon.”
I pinched my nose and drank the entire shot in one gulp. The girls screamed. It did taste like candy, like between a raspberry, a strawberry, and an orange. But the aftershock, I was not ready for that. I felt this huge sharp pain in my lower belly that was kind of there like a slow burn. The dizzy-tired feeling was instantaneous. But I think that was just from my first drink of real alcohol. I haven’t had any kind of spirit since I tried champagne at my uncle’s wedding to his second wife, before I was diagnosed. And to be honest, champagne is not my kind of drink. It’s like someone made ginger ale bitter and dry.
Words came up when I emptied the glass and put it down. “I hate all of you.”
Our Uber ride didn’t come and none of us were safe to drive, but Sam the bride wanted to do drunk karaoke a couple blocks away. I thought a couple blocks down the street wasn’t going to be a bad walk, but it turned out to be several blocks because we got lost at one point, and our phone GPSs were leading us the wrong way.
It was also 93 degrees outside around 7 p.m. I was hungry. I wanted dinner. I wanted more water, but the girls got bored of the bar we were in, so Elizzie thought of taking us to a karaoke bar she heard about. My feet were on fire from walking in my socks and sneakers. I imagined my girl friends were worse off than me because they wore sandals and high, high heels. But I was still feeling weak and nauseated. My head was killing me and I was sweating. And the pain in my belly was still there.
When we sat by the bar, I asked, “Do you know where I can go to a Seven Eleven? I think my blood sugar is getting low and I’m dehydrated.”
“Buzzkill,” Pat said. “Come on, you know the rule. We are pregaming. No food until 8 p.m.!”
“I thought you had a big lunch with us when we got here,” Jo said. “That buffet filled you up.”
“I know,” I said. “But I don’t feel well right now and I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Do you need to yack?” Pat said.
“She’s only had one drink,” Jo said. “I don’t think she’s got alcohol poisoning.”
“What’s the problem now?” Sam the bride whined. “We’re going to Chippendale’s for dinner and a show after this.”
“Honestly, I don’t want to see strippers while I’m eating.” I said.
“Well, how about you drink that entire glass of water, then sing one song, and then we’ll see if you feel better,” Elizzie said. “We’ll take you back to the hotel so you can sleep it off if you can’t come with us, then the rest of us will go to Chippendale’s. Sound good?”
“I think I could do that,” I said.
I honestly thought we would never get to sing a song in the rotation. It was getting pretty crowded in there, a lot of people buying booze and snack things. Jo was thinking about getting some barbecue wings, but my stomach churned when she asked me if I wanted to share some with her.
Then the dee jay called the next singer at 8:05 at night. I was just ready to leave when the skanky dee jay wearing a leopard print dress that showed too much boobs and already had too many shots men bought for her said, “Ok, let’s get the very lovely Princess Rebecca Leigh up here! Princess Rebecca!”
The girls shouted and cheered for me as I tried sucking down the last of my ice water without giving myself a brain freeze. And though I was still in a kind of haze, my heart was racing. My hands started getting clammy and I was irritable.
One little secret I didn’t tell you: I’m a karaoke virgin.
I have sung in front of Jo and her friends one time at a college leadership retreat, but there were like five or six people in the room. Before that, I was in choir and guitar class most of high school, but I’ve never had a solo. I hate auditions. I’ve never auditioned for a single play or musical at any of my schools. I get intense stage fright. Like poor sweet soul lady Adele.
I know, I read her biography.
When I got up to the skanky dee jay, she said, “Now, someone tells me tonight at midnight, you’ll be 21 years old!”
The place erupted in cheers. I blushed.
“I’m going to kill Jo for telling you,” I said when she handed me the mic.
“LOVE YOU, GIRL!” Jo shouted from the bar.
“You kind of look nervous,” she said. “Are you sure you can sing tonight?”
“It’s fine,” I said. “It’s—” I said in a whisper, “This is my first time.”
“Ok, I’ll let the crowd go easy on you,” she said, putting her mic down to talk to me personally. Then she had me go to the monitor and she said to the crowd, “Ok, folks, go easy on the birthday princess, we have a karaoke virgin in the house! Please give her a big hand!”
The crowd gave a huge applause and then went completely silent when the dee jay asked me without the mic, “What song do you want to sing?”
I was sort of glad that karaoke meant you sing another artist’s songs instead of a real song you wrote, because all of my songs were on my computer in the hotel, and the song I was writing in the bathroom in my memo pad, that was in my purse and it wasn’t finished. So I decided to sing a slow song I could still do without making me lose my breath: the Ann Wilson/ Heart cover of “Tell It Like it Is”.
My heart was pounding even harder. My hands were sweaty as she pulled up the song on her computer. The words came up on the screen. The first guitar notes played. I took a breath and let my singing voice, my inner mermaid voice Jo told me I had, come out into the light.
“If you want… something to play with, go and find yourself a toy… Tell it like it is…”
My voice was very shaky because of my nerves, but it felt pretty good. The crowd was quiet. They were all listening to me. It was scary and my heart kept throbbing, but I made up for it by singing louder and let the cadence roll through my body. I swayed to the rhythm and harmony.
There was one guy in the crowd whom was looking at me. I could have sworn I saw his face before somewhere, he looked familiar. Maybe I had seen him in a magazine, I had no idea. He had that Italian look to him with dark hair. He had a lot of tattoos on his arms, like tattoo sleeves, poking out of the sleeves of his black leather jacket. And he had a chiseled face like Paris of Troy, the guy who was in love with Helen. His best features were his dark curly hair and what looked like trombone player’s lips. When I locked eyes on him before going into the long outro section of the song, he smiled. I nearly panicked and looked back at the screen.
And just when I looked at the words to see where I was supposed to sing next, I stopped singing and stopped breathing. I choked. Right at the best part of the song where Ann Wilson just loses it and lets her voice go wild and crazy.
I had practiced this song over and over again whenever I was in my dorm room. Even when Jo heard me sing, she loved every performance I ever did as her roommate when I put on the Heart Greatest Hits record.
Suddenly, it was like someone had just pushed me in the chest like CPR and I was breathing again. But I was breathing too fast. My head was killing me. My throat also chimed in and said, “Closing time!” and I couldn’t swallow without pain. My mouth was dry. My eyes stung. My knees locked. I was breathing too fast. I knew this would be the very last time I sing anything by Heart.
When I saw this bright light and I dropped the microphone, I fell into someone’s arms. That was the last thing I remember.