It’s 2:00 AM and I’m looking out my hotel room’s bathroom window while I floss my teeth. As I scrape the gunk out from between my molars I look at the light beam streaking out from the tip of the Luxor Hotel. A cab driver told me that the beam’s intensity was lowered at the request of the FAA, but that the glass and steel pyramid’s light can still be seen from space. As I idly wonder how high the Luxor’s electric bill is, I feel small lump on the roof of my hard palate with the tip of my tongue. Funny. That wasn’t there before. As I probe the new addition I wonder where it came from. Maybe it’s a burn healing from the hot pizza I had last night. That’s probably what it is.
As I continue flossing a quiet and lethal whisper cuts across the cold, sterile bathroom tile and bores into my ears. Maybe that lump is cancer.
A shiver runs down my spine. I remove the floss from my mouth and look in the mirror. The mirror is illuminated by those lights that show off every imperfection on your skin. Since I’m naked I can see quite a few. Some clinical, distant part of my brain registers that my respiration has increased and my skin has turned cold and clammy. I feel dizzy.
Bathrooms are good places to lose IQ points to blunt force trauma – lots of hard surfaces and sharp corners. I sit down on the edge of the hot tub and hold my head in my hands. Slowly breathing though my nose, I try forcing myself to relax. As my blood oxygen levels attempt to normalize I tell myself that I don’t have cancer. I have a burn on the roof of my mouth and that’s all it its. If it gets bigger or is still there by the time I get home from Vegas I’ll go see my dentist. “Man up,” I tell myself. “You’re making mountains out of molehills.”
The dizziness passes and I continue with my oral ablutions. After I finish I slip into a toweling robe and walk into my suite’s darkened living room. I was dead tired a few minutes ago but now I feel like I could run a marathon. That’s what happens when your adrenal glands speed dump their entire contents into your blood stream. I wonder if I can order some benzodiazepines from room service. No, probably not.
I walk over to the mini-bar and liberate a small bottle of Johnnie Walker Black. I pour it neat into a water glass, sit down on the couch, and take a sip. Drinking alcohol’s not good idea when you’re anxious but I don’t always do what’s sensible. As I look at the Vegas skyline I take another sip and start psychologically debriefing myself. Why did I jump to such a catastrophic conclusion when faced with something so trivial? Why was my reaction so powerful?
As I watch the traffic snake along Las Vegas Boulevard I think back to a moment I had in a casino coffee shop earlier that afternoon. I hadn’t slept well the night before, I was hungry, and I felt emotionally wrung out after doing interviews with two very different people. I ordered bacon and eggs and started reading the newspaper. Noise from the slot machines outside floated past my table, sounding like baby Satan shaking his avaricious rattle. I looked up and saw a woman sitting on a stool by one of the slot machines holding what looked like an empty pail. She was crying softly. I looked back at my paper.
My mid-afternoon breakfast came and I dug in. After a few forkfuls of food slid into my belly I looked back to where the tearful woman was sitting. She was gone. It was then I felt incredibly homesick. I realized I was a stranger in a strange town with some very strange people. I missed my bed. I missed the sounds my apartment makes. I missed my dog. I realized I was all alone in a big hotel room with a big bed and no one to share it with. That hit me pretty hard. But I had another appointment in several minutes so I stuffed my feelings into a watertight compartment and sealed the hatch.
Several hours later, sitting in my hotel room and rolling blended scotch past the offending pimple on the roof of my mouth, I realized the seals on the watertight door failed. I’ve lived in my head a long time. I know that fear can burst over me like an unexpected summer storm. I also know that most of my worries are born from exhaustion and loneliness – especially loneliness. If I was in a close relationship with a woman and brought her on this trip I’d probably not be feeling what I’m feeling now. I’d have said, “Hey I have something on the roof of my mouth.” And she’d have said, “It’s probably the pizza. You burned the roof of your mouth remember?” Then the worry would’ve passed without all the physical special effects. My problem is that I deal with my most of my fears in lonely place. Loneliness maims. Loneliness exaggerates and warps perceptive. No one should really be alone. Not really. Not ever.
“It is not good for man to be alone,” I say, raising my glass to the city of Las Vegas. The city stares back at me in gaudy silence. Maybe God is blinded by the light from the Luxor and can’t see me. I’m disconnected and floating high above a city made of illusion. Maybe that’s why the wrong things look big and what’s important seems small.
I finish my drink and go to bed. After listening to the air conditioning crank on and off several times I fall asleep.