I got up at 5:00 AM and went downstairs to buy my $6 latte. But first I had to run the pre-dawn gauntlet.
I was fresh and washed and crisp and ready for a full day of conference naps, but the gaming tables were dusted with the crumbs of Mr. Wynn’s winnings from the night before. A young man sprawled desperately over the dice muttering curse-prayers, his face pounded into whiskey bender mush while his one friend tried to encourage him with vacant words, none of which was going to bring the money back. His other friend was a Sphinx, black beard stubble in high relief on his fat, sallow face, a beet red node glowing in the middle of his face.
I stood and watched him get ready to throw. “You got this,” said the encourager, weaving unsteadily.
“I told you to quit back when you were completely fuckin’ broke,” said the Sphinx.
The roller was so intent he heard no one and nothing but the call faintly echoing out from the depths of the maw. The croupier was a surgeon, clinically cutting away the last bleeding pieces that remained. He saw everything, felt nothing. He glanced at me. “So?” he seemed to say.
I couldn’t watch and continued on. Workmen had pulled up a pair of tiles while cleaning crews worked in a controlled frenzy. The machine never stopped grinding and so it had to be oiled on low speed, which was delicate and ruthlessly efficient work.
A fat man slumped precariously on a barstool and talked at his hired hand. Her long legs dangled deliciously. His glass was almost empty, hers untouched. Her eyes met mine. “So?” she seemed to say.
Two Chinese women had been the victims of some kind of crime, and the police interviewed them while Mr. Wynn’s security staff stood off to the side, distraught at the possibility that donors would see police and a crime scene here in Disneyland. “This whole casino is a crime scene,” I thought. I got my coffee and walked back to the elevators. The trio had been flushed down the sewer and was gone and the croupier caught my eye for a second.
“So?” he seemed to say.
Outside the casino it was cool and dead. I walked down the Strip for a short distance, mostly unpeopled. A homeless man with one arm approached me. His wretchedness was almost too much to bear, a toothless face drawn tight like a shrunken head on a living skull.
“Are you German?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I said.
“Geld, bitte sehr,” he said.
“Gerne,” I replied, gave him a ten, and walked on. Off to my right the early morning sun covered the Trump Hotel in a blinding sheen of gold.