It’s late afternoon and I’m taking notes for my upcoming book in front of the Paris Hotel and Casino on Las Vegas Boulevard. But I’m not the only person working “The Strip” today. Several Latino men and women wearing t-shirts proclaiming “Hot Ass Escorts” and “Girls Direct to You in Twenty Minutes” are cruising the sidewalk trying to hand out picture cards of naked women to the tourists gawking at the faux Eiffel Tower towering above us. In order to gain people’s attention the hucksters quickly slap a single card against the thick pack of cards they’re holding in the opposite hand, creating a sharp, annoying clicking sound that makes you want to grab one just so they’ll cut it out.
As I watch these men and women do their job, I notice that different passersby elicit different numbers of clicks. If an elderly person walks by they’re lucky if they get one click. Married couples and middle aged guys like me gets several clicks. Two girls in short skirts walking arm in arm get ten or twelve – and a wolf whistle. But when a herd of drunk male twenty-somethings stumbles by, the clicking takes on the masturbatory ferocity of a nymphomaniacal hummingbird.
As I watch porn barkers work, I notice one of the men doing the clicking thing differently. Holding a card between his thumb and index fingers, he rapidly flicks it with his middle digit while fluttering the card near the noses of unsuspecting pedestrians. I walk up to him. Noticing me he maneuvers the card near my face. I snap it out of his hand. Surprised, he steps back.
I look at the picture card. It’s of a busty white girl named Simone. She’s all mine if I call 702-555-5555.
“The girl in the picture,” I ask the guy. “She really look like this?”
“No habla ingles?” the man replies, shrugging.
“La chica se parece a este?’ I ask in mangled Spanish.
The guy looks at me sharply. “What do you think, mister?” he says.
“I didn’t think so.”
The man walks away and I put the card in my pocket. If I called that number some poor Central American girl probably be’d sent up to my room. I shake my head. Sex is everywhere in this town. You can’t escape it. Above me a giant billboard featuring the perfectly formed ass of a Vegas showgirl looks down on the illegal immigrants huslting to make a buck from perverted tourists. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no prude. I like a bit of erotica as much as the next guy. But sometimes this town makes me feel like a nausesous kid who’s eaten to much candy.
I turn my attention back to my notebook and start writing down my impressions of Caesars Palace and the Mirage Hotel across the street. Just as I’m coming up with a snazzy observation on decadence and illusion I hear a female voice ask.
“Excuse me, but aren’t you Stephen Dublanica?”
I look up to find a petite, friendly looking woman standing in front of me. I must admit I have a slightly terifified expression on my face, You see, I can count the number of times I’ve been recognized on the street on the fingers of one hand. I’m just not used to it. And, to be honest, I’ve always been worried about running into some nutcase.
Then my common sense/media savvy brain kicks in. Here I am, 2515 miles from home, and some person who’s read my stuff wants to say hello. “You should be flattered Steve,” I think to myself. “Drop the paranoia and be polite to the nice lady.”
“Yes I am,” I reply, extending my hand, “How nice to meet you.”
“I read on your blog you were going to be in Vegas the same time I was,” the woman says. “But I never thought I’d run into you!”
Turns out the young woman’s a homemaker from Seattle taking a mini-vacation from her husband and two small children. I’m sure glad she didn’t run into me when I was holding one of those cards advertising prostitutes. As we talk my comfort level increases and my defensive media persona sloughs off. Soon I’m just plain talkative me.
“So how old are your children?” I ask.
“Five and seven,” the woman replies.
“They’re still small.”
I look down at the pornographic cards littering the sidewalk.
“Too young for a place like this,” I say.
“I wouldn’t bring my kids here,” the woman says. “Too much adult stuff.”
“Yeah, you’d spend most of your trip explaining things you don’t want to explain.”
In my mind’s eye I can see my future unborn child looking up at me with great big innocent eyes and asking “Daddy? What are hot ass escorts?”
“Ask your mother,” I reply.
“No, you’re right,” I say, returning to reality. “They’d have to be in their twenties before I let them come here.”
The woman giggles, “That’s for sure.”
“Do you know what they call these guys handing out the dirty picture cards?” I ask.
“You mean the porn slappers?”
“So that’s what they’re called?”
“That’s what I’ve heard them called,” the woman replies.
“Interesting,” I say, jotting down the term in my notebook. “You’ve been very helpful.”
“So how’s the rest of your research going?” the woman asks.
“Great,” I reply. “I’ve talked to two strippers, a dealer, a doorman, a shoeshine guy, and a cab driver. And that’s just in two days.”
“Who else are you going to talk to?” the woman asks.
“I’m trying to talk to some casino cocktail waitresses,” I say. “But I’ve had no luck so far. Whenever I approach one of them they think I’m a perv.”
“Have you ever heard of Cocktail Dollie?” the woman asks.
“No,” I reply. “I haven’t.”
“She’s a Vegas cocktail waitress with a blog,” the woman says. “People make pilgrimages to see her.”
“Try contacting her. She could be a big help.”
“That would be an immense help.” I say. “Wow! I’m glad I ran into you!”
“Well enjoy the rest of your trip.” I say.
“You too,” the woman says. “Good luck.”
I return to my notebook and jot down a reminder to email this Cocktail Dollie person as soon as I get back to my hotel. Then I lean against a wall and watch the throngs of tourists file past me. In Las Vegas you’re allowed to carry open containers of alcohol in public. As a result, quite a few of the people I see are drunk. Not happy drunk, but sweaty, high blood pressured, red faced, unattractive drunk. There’s a big, big temptation in this town to overindulge and be someone you’re normally aren’t. That can be fun in measured doses, but nothing comes in measured doses in “Sin City.”
Suddenly a wave of exhaustion hits me like a freight train. I’m not an experienced traveller, so I neglected to factor recovering from jet lag into my schedule. As a result my sleep and nutrition cycle is all messed and I’m prone to bouts of powerful weariness. I look at my watch. I have an appointment with a blackjack dealer in an hour so I can’t knock off now. I decide to go over to the Hawaiian Tropic Bar and get a bite to eat. Because the waitresses there wear bikinis it’s not a hard decision to make. What did I say earlier? Sex sells in this town.
As I push off I look at one of the porn slapper cards lying on the ground. Despite the wet shoe print staining it, I can see a young Asian girl named Miko promising me a world of delights if just call (702) 555-5555. Suddenly I wonder where Miko is and if she’s all right.
Knowing that’s a question I’ll never get an answer to, I leave the porn slappers behind and head off to get a burger from some bikini clad waitress. What a town.