story by eric m. martin – photography by kevin coffey
I used to believe in the pleasure principle. I’m not so sure anymore.
I can’t say why I do this anymore. I mean, I get paid, but the novelty wore off a long time ago. Now it’s like reading a book I’ve read dozens of times. Like a choose your own adventure that’s been read cover to cover. No more twists and turns. No more surprises.
I show up at the bar when the people who came to get drunk are leaving and the people who want to get laid are coming in. At first I couldn’t tell the difference. They all just look so hungry, for something. I realized after a while what the difference is. The difference fear. I don’t want to get into it, but that’s how it is.
I guess it doesn’t matter if it’s not fun. It’s a job. Jobs aren’t supposed to be fun. In Vegas this is one of the easier jobs. Show up at Bar X looking good, but not too good, and have a good time for three hours on the company dime.
You can’t drink too much. There’s a definite limit. But you have to drink. Fill the place with something that looks like joy. They use the word effervescence on the job description.
It’s hard for me walk into one of these places now, like tonight, and see things in black and white. The head of the company, the guy who hired me, tried to help me simplify things back when I started.
“Roy, this is how people work,” he told me. “They follow the pleasure principle – plain and simple. They want to be happy. Different people do it different ways, but the people you will see on this job want one of two things. Either they want an escape from their regular life – I mean, that’s why they came to Vegas – or they want love. They’ll settle for sex though.”
He smiled and seemed to want to me break into applause.
“And that’s it?” I said.
“That’s all you need to know, Roy” he said.
For a long time he seemed right.
But tonight there is a girl who seems to vaguely fit into the love category. She’s over at a green-topped corner table. The bar is not too loud tonight, but the lights are flashing. It seems like they make noise. It’s like the quietest discothèque in Europe. Like a bar kid died and his Friday night spot is in mourning: full, blue-laser Lady Gaga mourning.
This girl made the picture complete because she was sitting alone crying into her hands.
It’s not rare to see someone crying at 1 a.m. in a bar. What’s rare is when they try to be discreet about it. Usually the tears are part of the show. Part of category one (out to get drunk) sneaking up on category two (out to get laid). Too drunk for love or something.
This girl had her hair loose but it was like mid-length hair, didn’t reach her shoulders. She was wearing a dress that looked too tight around her stomach when she was sitting down. It looked uncomfortable but it probably fit her fine when she stood up. She was just sitting there at the table with the lasers flashing over her and the rest of the life of the bar swirling around the room, laughing. Her friends must have been part of the swirl, caught up in category two I would guess.
I looked around the room for someone to go help her. This kind of thing is outside my job description. I was waiting for an order of shots for my new friends visiting from Cleveland. They’d told their girlfriends a story about a convention, though they could have just as easily told the truth. They told me the whole story and off I went to get some shots for the boys.
While I waited I spotted the dark-haired girl at the green table. She wasn’t really there to drink or to get laid. The pleasure principle didn’t apply to her.
This kind of thing keeps on creeping into my nights.
In the mirror behind the bar I see myself: Anonymous: Short-cropped brown hair: Nice-but-affordable clothes. Looking like I might show up to take out your daughter tomorrow night. A few seats down the bar I spotted Mr. Right. That’s who I was looking for. I didn’t hesitate to go over to him.
“Hey man, what’s your name?” I said.
“Alex. How are you?”
“Hey, look, Alex. You look like a nice guy. Who are you here with? Your girlfriend?”
“No. Just some buddies. Why?”
“See that girl over there?” I pointed.
“She didn’t come here to cry. She came here to find something out.”
“What are you talking about?” Alex said.
“Listen, do me a favor, Alex. Go over there and ask her if she would like to get some fresh air. Down to the corner and back. Take a walk. Tell her that it’ll do her good and when you get back here you won’t even buy her a drink. You’ll just say goodbye, nice to have met you.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Don’t you want to find out what it is she came to find out?”
“Is this a game, dude? Are you playing with me, or what?”
He was still mostly sober. A solid fellow was the phrase that came to mind, out of the depths of some memory of English television I’d caught on cable.
“Look, do me a solid,” I said, “and I’ll buy you and your friends a drink.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
“I’m here with a certain someone,” I said.
Alex looked around and saw all the women in the room, not for the first time. I could see him trying to attach one to me.
“You know what?” he said. “This is Vegas. I’ll do it.”
I stepped back from the bar to make room for him. The bartender showed up with my shots. I took them to the table where the guys from Cleveland were sitting and watched Alex approach the girl.
Her back was to me now. The blue lasers of the bar cut across Alex’s face and lit up a half-smile. He put out his hand. The girl took it.
My Cleveland friends raised their shot glasses and I raised mine.