Impresario Steve Wynn was not easy to satisfy. Big leading to bigger was only a beginning between more to come. But, he was temporarily satisfied so far. The view from the penthouse suite atop his ground-breaking Mirage Hotel sparkled with the astonishing light of his desert. It was his, not hers, or theirs, or yours, because who else would turn nothing into something like that? Add some ultra-hyped zing and some zest, a slew of pyrotechnical gizmos and doodads, jokes, jokers, and royal flushers, a waterfall, a moat, a castle, a clown, and a barrel spilling over the top with scads of monkeys performing razzmatazz with pizzazz, and what do you get? Astounding profit, that’s what, sharp, keen, and straight to the astonishing roundabout point.
“You know me. I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
He poured more champagne and toasted his shrewd guest, Michael Milken. He offered a plate of colorful cookies with oddly spiced cranberry chips as they each pondered the vast potential of growth in endless stocks of shifting sand, and took another cookie for himself. Good, smart cookies were easy to come by, but Michael Milken was a lot smarter then an ordinary smart cookie. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty doing the hard dirty work. He knew how to shake and harvest greenback dollars from neglected trees stripped of bark and leaves. Sticks, and stones, and bones, too, it seemed. How would the grandeur of The Mirage have ever been able to appear out of nowhere without Michael Milken and his glorious junk bonds? Steve Wynn knew how to pick a winner, all right. Less than two months until opening day. He lifted a crystal flute in salute.
Michael Milken admired the view as well, the long view. That, and the champagne, the short view. He knew he was going to prison soon, served up as a scapegoat by jealous competitors and crooked politicians, but he could take it. And he never forgot names and faces. And he knew he would get out, and come out, ahead.
He listened with half an ear as Steve Wynn dispatched a nuisance call with wit and aplomb. Who doesn’t understand what that’s like? You can tell a lot about a man by how he refuses to play nice in a sandbox with others.
Steve Wynn griped, “I need to come up with a better strategy to get rid of this pest Trump who keeps trying to horn in on my action out here.”
“Pest is a nice way to put putz.”
“You know him?”
“Everyone knows him, but no one wants to.”
“He’s got nothing but balls to offer.”
“Half of nothing.”
“Wisdom like Moses there.”
“You probably mean Solomon.”
“Another heavy hitter.”
The Mirage was going to be the biggest, the best, no whining. High rollers needed a lot of room to spread out and flex and shoot off wads. Trump was peanuts back east in Flushing on streets filled with dog shit atop piles of real snow. A faux volcano was going to erupt four times every hour in front of the Mirage when the lights were turned on. Not just any lights but lights the equal to stars. White tigers and straws with top hats to stir the drinks, too. Tap dancing Mr. Peanut Trump was never going to get anywhere close in the long run.
“I only admire persistence to a point.”
“When it’s yours.”
“Or will be.”
“It has to make some sense.”
“I’ve got gnats flitting all over me. You know how parasites are attracted to pure wholesome protein. We’re not even open yet and anyone with the vision to think straight can see from close up Vegas is where it’s going to be at, baby. Who doesn’t want a piece of that? Anybodies and nobodies, too. I got this guy camped out in my waiting room who bakes these cookies and thinks he’s going to get to see me because he knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody.”
“Who’s supposed to know something about something you can’t live without.”
“As if I’m ever going to have time to see him”
“Good cookies, though.’
“Good, but not great.”
El Kid knew his cookies were not great. He was still trying to reach far and wide enough to get there. High, too. He knew how to mix, and stir, and blend, and often whir, and how to taste more than a bit of bittersweetness, but not always how to let it be. He was constantly tinkering with his spices, never right, never exactly wrong, as if spices represented the vortex by which gravity pulled the cockeyed earth.
For the lucky seventh time, he approached the receptionist who bubbled behind the gilt desk, and offered, “Have another cookie.”
Who of sound mind was going say no to a pure and natural cookie right out of the box with no strings attached?
She said, “Maybe just one more.”
“Nothing wrong with pure and natural ingredients.”
“It’s tingling my tongue.”
El Kid knew a little bit about how to bite, and scratch, and claw, too. And fake an authentic smile. He was lucky enough to learn that early in a tough town. He thought he was going to succeed in getting to see Steve Wynn not only because he knew Sweet Lady Jane, who had already won unanimous approval for her chocolate tacos, mocha cupcakes, and cinnamon bobka from Steve Wynn, the only vote to count, and not only because Sweet Lady Jane knew Thom Roger, the lead interior designer for The Mirage, who used to have an office on Melrose Ave. next door to her great bakery in West Hollywood, and not only because Thom Roger knew Steve Wynn who had known Roger’s father in Las Vegas for many years, but mostly because he wasn’t going to give up. He had refused to quit while staying put, and he had endured humiliation lots of shitty times before.
“Tingling is good You can put in a good word for tingling with your boss.”
“I’ll do my best.”
She politely kicked him out of her office at five o’clock, though, with the unfortunate message that Mr. Wynn had been mysteriously called away and was gone for the day, which was in fact not a lie, a first.
El Kid might have let slip out at the next opportunity when inside the next elevator going miserably down alone, which was not a question, “What the fuck.”
He crossed The Strip on foot revisiting the eternal loop that skipped in his head, do I stay or do I go? A bus beeped and a minivan blew a warning, beware. He pushed against the nearest revolving door and followed a crooked highway into the bowels of a casino. Speak up, no shirking, you dope. Murderous expectations for tomorrow, about the same. Unintended consequences unaccountable. You won’t find out until the last second before you’re dead. Pick a number, any number. Don’t pretend not to peek.
He was too hot, too dry, too flattened to come up with a convincing response to a nolo contendere plea. Fake trickle down is grueling to harvest when baked on brick pavement by a desert fighting back by any means necessary. He tried not to forget it is what it is.
He took a seat at the sports book at Harrah’s, where seats were many and asses in them few, and perused the odds on the neon board. The pivotal third game of the 1989 World Series was about to begin on an array of screens populating the amphitheater, A’s versus Giants, two sides of the San Francisco Bay. As a recently confirmed resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, El Kid was a fan of both. South Bay, too. He gulped a free beer that was worth it, and mused, why not a better beer? Why not add spices? The shifting numbers on the board seemed to be slanted at an obtuse dialogue. Unless that was only Socrates getting the shaft again. Lucky for El Kid he wasn’t playing odds.
Baseball is a complex game of decision making in tight situations where simultaneous variables travel at high speed to impact at junctures that hurt. Simple enough. Who hasn’t been spiked, beaned, battered, bruised, broken? Or whiffed on a deceptive pitch and struck out?
El Kid arose from his comfortable seat to place his bet in memory of Joe Avirgan, a man who worshiped at the altar of a home run in the bottom of the ninth. He was betting on not only power but speed. No odds were able to stand up to that.
And then the Bay Bridge fell down on the big screen in front of his wide eyes that would never be able to close in the same way again.