“Such a curious place…So strange a place. So unmagical. And with such great effort to achieve the unmagical. Bless them.”
—Leonard Cohen, Live at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Tari Ann Merrin loved Las Vegas. She did not love Las Vegas the way most people do, as a weekend spectator, a passive member of the desperate, debauched carnival. She loved all of Las Vegas, end to expanding end, desert to shrinking desert, mountain to mountain, and she loved it as blurry, black-and-white photos of a gasping train depot, a stop at a spring house along the road to California and she loved it in sepia and Technicolor and HD. She loved its 1950’s homesteads and modern suburban sprawl and fourth-generation high-rise casinos. But most she loved it into the future. Because that is where Las Vegas really lives, in the dream of what it will be.
From the age of seven she knew that her life path lay in development and demanded to be taken out to see the bulldozers and cranes chewing at the land, erecting desert-colored houses. She stole flags that demarcated coming sewer and electric lines, mounted them on her walls like pennants. Through high school she worked for a grounds-keeping company that serviced homeowners’ associations. Sometimes she filed paperwork and billed clients. Sometimes she spent after-school hours and long, hot summer days scattering gravel in yards and plucking thorns from the fat pads of decorative walkway cacti. She found these actions felt like devotional practice—prayer, and the kneeling and standing that comes with prayer.
She met Brad in Bar Green Mix Canary. His skin was evenly tanned and his features well arranged.
He said he worked at a country club and was training to be a professional golfer. He also toyed with high-stakes poker and day trading.
She said she worked at Caspian Lakes.
“Oh, Sweetie. I’m thinking about getting a place out there. Maybe you can talk to your boss and get me a deal?”
Tari Ann watched the dance floor and guessed which women were working and which were just there to have a good time.
“Or maybe I can by you a drink,” said Brad.
“Yes,” she said. She drank it and then, with a pen that had Caspian Lakes Marketing and Construction, LLC inscribed up the shaft, sketched a map of the community on a napkin.
“Lots are available here.” She made quick circles on the layers of thin paper spread between her fingers. “For you, I’d suggest the six-bedroom with the recessed front. Very popular.”
She handed him a business card.
“CFOO. Wow,” said Brad.
“This street here has yet to be named. Any suggestions?” She often asked buyers this.
He glanced again at her card.
“Tari Ann Street. That’s what I’ll vote for,” he smiled, his teeth bleached and the tilt of his head practiced. “But you deserve an avenue.”
“Keep the pen,” she said.
Tari had come of age at the crescendo of the boom, when Las Vegas transitioned from a few houses surrounding entertainment strips to the national epicenter of the house-flipping game, 1.5 million people buying and selling, five-thousand residents in and three thousand out each month, the entire city buzzing like the floor of a stock exchange.
Tourism and cards, while integral to Las Vegas, were not, she knew, the future. Real estate, the purchase and sale of land and structure, that was the heart of the gamble.
“Even here, people want to be able to touch the things they have,” she had told her college advisor. She skipped Hotel Management and Gaming Studies and got herself a MBA with a specialization in New Venture Management.
Construction would begin the next week.
They had drinks and dinner.
He called again. They golfed. He was very good.
Brad said, “Have you considered New York?”
Tari looked out over the fairway. Transplant, she thought. Transplanted citizens populated most of the city. The next move, where to go when their bank accounts bulged, how to get out, remained a key topic of conversation for these transplants. Tari knew that, in her native city, home ownership did not indicate home.
“New York lacks possibility,” she said.
Tari Ann lived up near Celine Dion, at the western edge of Las Vegas’s zoned land. She chose to not weigh in on the debate about building into the protected areas just west of her doorstep, not the right moment in her career to take on either the Bureau of Land Management or the Vegas citizenry. She could not, however, drive past the flat desert rising up into the tremendous red boulder mountains without imagining multi-million dollar homes speckling the land, a few cresting over the top of the bare hills. She would show these fresh, new houses at dusk, the rocks glowing pink and orange in the last of the sun, the city emerging below as an island of lights.
Besides the four-bedroom near Celine, she owned a condo far south on Las Vegas Boulevard, above the H&M in the Town Center outdoor mall. When tourists did not rent it off Craigslist she spent the weekend there. She partied at the mall bars, rose in the morning to jog the labyrinth of stores, touching the steps of the IMAX Cinema before turning to make her way back through the quiet, squinting against the harsh morning sun reflected out of plate-glass shop windows.
Under Tari’s direction the planned community of Caspian Lakes had begun to inflate up out of the desert eleven miles east of the city, on the border of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Caspian Lakes’ high-end, pre-fab houses clotted the cul-du-sacs that trickled from a central ring road. The ring road circled Caspian Lake, a backhoed pit filled with water borrowed from Lake Mead, itself a bi-product of taming the mighty Colorado River with the Hoover Dam. Her contractors, replaceable and, thus, efficient, threw up buildings in a few days.
In an average week she and her team sold six to ten Caspian Lakes residencies and she felt the community digging its hooks into the desert. Most people bought them as a second, third or fifth home. To this majority clientele Tari referred to the cluster of houses as an oasis, conjuring ideas of travel and rest. To young people looking at Caspian Lakes for permanent residency, she spoke of fresh starts, a school that they could be instrumental in designing, safety and the natural environment: the lake, the mountains. For retirees, Tari Ann described fall concerts, the band floating out on the lake, cool breezes. “We have a water show here every week. The lake is equipped with fountains and we use the same designer as the Bellagio. Dancing Waters right here in your front yard.” She also said multi-generational and exclusive. The floor managers at Caspian Lakes Casino told her which slots were loose and Tari Ann took interested buyers into the faux-hardwood and velvet parlor, sat them down and made sure they had enough free plays to come out ahead of the nothing they put in.
Tari Ann’s team sold so well not just because they used the right words, offered their clients champagne and free money, but also because Tari loved Caspian Lakes and instilled this love in her employees. She loved this satellite of Las Vegas erected out on the martian desert, Vegas extended as far as the BLM would allow. She was happy to gaze out at the lake, a dream realized, a lake made of a lake made of a river through the ingenuity of humans. She loved her carefully designed downtown street lined in dimly lit, cast-iron lamps and the two parks where families and lovers lay on manicured Astroturf and children played under industrial-sized sunshades angled against each other like sails. Sometimes when summer windstorms came out of the desert she imagined the buildings and the awnings catching that wind, lifting up and floating away, the Nina or the Pinta or the Santa Maria, off to find new lands to claim in the name of Las Vegas.
She continued to answer Brad’s calls but she did not think about him when he wasn’t there and she did not sleep with him until he showed her the bill of sale demonstrating that he had sold for a 50 percent markup.
“In only three weeks,” she said. Her voice had gone husky. “Lots still available.” She took off all her clothes and opened her legs.
“Who bought?” she said in his ear while they thrust together.
“A lonely, loaded, old couple from Lincoln, Nebraska. I want another one.”
“A few left. Prices are up. You can have one if you can afford it.” She bit his shoulder. He smacked her ass.
Brad arrived at her office, a model home at the entrance to Caspian Lakes, in a polo shirt and kakis. Tari Ann did not kiss him and sent him out to the golf cart with another agent.
“I thought you would show me,” he said.
“That is not really appropriate, is it?” she said. “We can have lunch after your tour if you like.”
In the Bistro Barn, one of Caspian Lakes’ premiere dining experiences, they ate tapas from a steel table.
“I should play it cool, but I love the lot,” said Brad.
“You’ll have great parties,” said Tari Ann.
“I thought it might be a nice place for a family.” He tilted his head and tapped his fork on the edge of his plate. “All the neighbors look married with kids.”
She pursed her lips and looked away. “Parties.”
“Parties,” he said.
She said nothing. Vegas, while known for its easy divorces, married young. Most of the people she knew from high school lived with their kids and construction worker husbands and had paid for their weddings with tips from cocktailing and dealing lingerie blackjack. Tari Ann had too much to do to get married. She did not need to get married. She had Las Vegas.
Brad tapped his plate again.
“Why is it called Caspian Lakes? Will there be another lake?”
“Sounds better. Between you and me, it’s the last lot. I’d jump on it.”
“Isn’t it a sea, anyway?”
The next time Brad called she intended to not pick up. But he didn’t call and then the bubble she had been standing on burst. The housing market tumbled. The bulldozers and nail-guns grew silent outside the Caspian Lakes office. She smiled and talked about how there was nowhere to go but up. A hiccup, that’s all. Can’t keep Vegas down.
When he did call he had become unspecific in her memory. Her cell phone sat on up on a stack of books on her bedside table: Igniting the Fire of Future, 47 More Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and This Isn’t Going to Work Out: Ending Employer/Employee Relationships.
“My house is finished. I guess you know that. Can I give you a tour?”
She felt giddy as she drove from the management office to his house. A celebration. A home finished, not a house abandoned.
He had a bottle of gin waiting. She brought a box of condoms.
“The economy,” he said.
“It will be fine,” she said.
“Can’t keep Vegas down.”
“My buddies are thinking about selling.”
“Look at that view. The Vegas Valley.”
The market did not improve. In the mornings she read the short-sale notices as if they were obituaries and sometimes she moaned and sometimes she screamed and everyday she felt her body smashing down a tall mountain, ledge after ledge. Every morning she went to work in fresh suits and perfect make-up.
Then Caspian Lakes emptied. In her upstairs office, what would have been the master bedroom with en-suite bath, a styrofoam-backed real estate map of Caspian Lakes lay spread out on a table. The map had once been a mosaic of green, yellow and blue flags—lots sold, lots with homes under construction, lots with complete houses and full or part-time residence. Now swaths of orange, homes abandoned to banks, waved up from the table.
The casino shut. SUV loads of the elderly arrived and circled the building, knocking on doors and peering in the tinted windows until they found the small “closed” sign and went away in confusion. Most of the boutiques pulled out, but Amber at the Wine Shoppe stayed afloat. She remained as the sole employee, twelve hours a day, selling cheap cabernet to the financially strained and several-hundred-dollar malbec to the unaffected while calculating the cost of keeping her stock at a healthy temperature. Friday night concerts persisted but hardly anyone drove around Caspian Lakes Rd. the rest of the week.
She saw Brad on Sundays for drinks or golf.
“We could just have sex,” she told him.
They perched up on abnormally high stools, the tables supported on long, spindly legs. He looked around the murky bar, lighted mostly by covered candles, for a waitress. The waitresses wore black and Tari could only see them when the exposed skin of their arms or thighs reflected a small flame, like a mirror catching moonlight.
He hooked his finger in the air and thrust his chin up to catch the attention of a waitress. Then he took out an envelope and slid it across the table.
“It’s a spa pass.”
“A woman I give lessons to is friends with the owner.” The waitress arrived and he ordered another drink, flirting in a way that Tari recognized as unconscious, the smile, the wink, but it still annoyed her.
“I could get another pass, if you want, for a girlfriend. Or they have this couple’s thing,” he told her.
When she didn’t say anything else he said, “Well, anyway, she’s a sweetie, this woman, but her stroke is terrible.” He held his arms in front of his chest and tweaked his sleeves straight. “I’m giving up the Caspian Lakes house.”
“Excuse me,” said Tari. She stepped down off the high stool and walked away from the tall table. In the bathroom she locked a stall door and cried a little. Then she took a pen out of her clutch and wrote the housing market made me consider him on the plastic coating the metal wall. The ink from the ballpoint pen came out in uneven lines so the message was legible only to Tari. She read it again and then scratched it out. He loves me and the housing market makes me have a headache. Her pen gave out so the message read H l v me d h. She kicked the wall and threw the pen in the toilet. The force of the flushing water was not strong enough to wash it away. She kicked the toilet.
At the table a fresh drink waited for her.
“Abandonment?” she said.
“It doesn’t affect you, anyway. It’s me and my credit report.”
“It affects the value of other properties. It affects…Las Vegas,” she said.
“Don’t use the word ‘promise.’ Jesus. I’m finished with my drink. You?”
Amber from the Wine Shoppe stopped by the office.
“I’m cutting my hours. Can’t do it. Closing at six.”
“Six,” said Tari.
“It’s just not worth it.”
Tari Ann drove to Lake Mead and walked beyond what had been Echo Bay Beach to the lake’s edge, down the long strip of gravel, past a few scrub bushes, where the water had drained away into people’s showers and lawns. She squatted down and looked across the lake at the thick ring of mineral deposit marking the original water levels, now so far above the waves. Tari Ann felt thirsty. She felt alone.
“The war is lost,” Tari said. “No, the war has moved on.” She swept the Caspian Lakes Residencies map off the table. “Would you like to get naked?”
Brad unbuttoned his shirt and she pulled off her dress. She kissed his shaved chest and then pushed against it to make him lie on the table.
“Jacket,” he said. She retrieved a condom from the pocket while Brad got out of his pants. She put her knee on the tabletop and hoisted herself up, his hands lifting and steadying her hips. He lay down again and she put his penis in her mouth, inattentively sucking and licking, until he was hard. She opened the condom.
“Are you ready?” he said.
She rolled it on and straddled him, sinking down, guiding him inside. She ignored the maple laminate grinding her kneecaps.
When they finished she remained astride him for a moment, contracting the muscles in her pelvis until he shrank and slipped out. She rose up, still on her knees and then climbed off the table. The tiny wood pins that had held the orange flags aloft on the map sunk into the carpet and the flesh of her feet. Tari bent one knee, looked over her shoulder and brushed the wood and plastic from her foot and then did the same with her other leg.
“I’m going to Mexico,” she said. “I’ve done some research.”
She went to take a shower. Brad knocked on the sliding glass door. She leaned back, the water pouring through her hair, sounding like wind as it hissed out of the fixture and hit the tile. Brad knocked again and she grabbed the thin metal bar affixed to the door, gliding it open a little.
They showered in silence, moving around each other, in and out of the water and then toweled off and dressed.
He stood behind her while she applied mascara.
“But, Las Vegas,” he said.
“Moving on.” She popped the brush back into its tube and screwed it shut with two quick twists.
The Costa Maya was almost full. Selling everything, her house, her condo, her shares, cashing in her retirement and talking to investors she knew, Tari financed a smallish piece of land with an eighth of a mile of beach, found a silent Mexican partner to sign the documents and got ready to build.
When questioned about her credentials she said, “Of course I can run a resort. I’m from Vegas. Besides, fifty percent of the units are set aside as condo purchase. It’s going to be magic.”
Hired men pulled out the trees, bared the earth and founded the first buildings. She fought the wet air, striding around the property, over the winding pathways outlined with ribbons of pink and yellow and red plastic supported by slivers of wood hammered into the ground. Visions of stucco walls, palm trees and sod, buffets and swim-up bars appeared before her. She drew in sharp breaths when she reached to touch a spiky palm frond or single-paned window and the mirage dissolved, leaving her in an expanse of lumpy dirt, cement floors still cradled in wooden frames occasionally checkerboarding the brown soil.
“Faster,” she said. “Let’s do this thing. Vamos. We need some parrots.”
The marketing team kicked around the name Lil’ Vegas but decided that would not endear the resort to their target clientele: Non-Americans. Americans were out of money. They presented Tari Ann with a logo for Little Vegas instead.
“Little,” she said. “Who ever wanted Vegas to be little?”
She fired them and informed the board of her actions in the same email as she proposed a new name: Mayan Vegas.
She wrote, “Here’s a tag: Why choose? The economy is tough. Why choose? We offer individuals and families all the vacation they want—Las Vegas and the Mayan Riviera. I’ve had it translated into six languages, in case people like the idea.”
People loved the idea.
Tari rented a short single-wide trailer home and parked it near the beach. In the front she had a computer, filing cabinets and a tiny table where she held meetings with the foreman and phone conversations with investors and architects. In the back a twin bed folded out of the wall, butting up against the stove, refrigerator and sink. She tried to take on the habit of siesta and, in the afternoon, lay on the bed listening to the grind of the generator. Inevitably, she remembered a phone call or email she needed to make or send and sat up, reached to the front and back of the trailer, got her phone or leaned her forearms on the table to type and, after a few minutes, abandoned the siesta. Outside she could see workers sitting in the shade of their trucks, eating huge meals out of coolers and playing dominos. She wanted to scream at them. Stop looking so comfortable. I’ve only got a few months to build Las Vegas.
In the evenings construction stopped with the sun. As the swollen clouds on the horizon fell dark, the men drove off in pickups or walked to the road to catch the bus.
She found it difficult to remember the names of the workers, Marco, Mario, Michael, Manuel. Las Vegas, they said, the s’s trickling out in slow, lazy rivers and the v settling somewhere close to b. Nevada they said with both a’s soft, low hills instead of pronouncing the first a as a sharp fall from a cliff, the way true Nevadans knew how. They said Mexico with a he in the middle that made the word a laugh, familiar.
The humidity gave her a rash. Her skin broke out as if she were thirteen.
She wore her makeup thick to cover the chapped skin on her neck and the zits on her face. Streams of sweat streaked the makeup down onto her suit collars.
She could not go to her parents’ house for dinner every two weeks. She could not say she remembered when the Mayan Riviera had been nothing but a few palapas shading hitchhiking hippies. Occasionally she drove her leased SUV up to the Ocean Mar Yucatan Resort and had a drink with the managers. They wanted to discuss home and the differences between home and Mexico.
She said, “Do you find the time-share more profitable than outright condo sale?” Or, “I’m thinking llama-drawn carts for the Mayan wedding packages.”
She looked over the umbrellas and fruit skewers spiking out of her drink and forced smiles.
The managers went to get new drinks and did not return. She stayed at the table, shifting, shifting the coasters and napkins to mimic a perfect resort layout until the imperfectable design set her teeth on edge.
A few times she picked up guys from the schools of wristbanded tourists meandering through the Ocean Mar’s Mayan Market Bar & Gift Shop and took them back to their rooms or to plastic-strapped chaise lounges on shadowed pool-sides.
Mostly at night she stayed in her trailer, an armed guard walking the premises, the screams of the parrots terrifying. She worked through the evenings, emails, budgets, Mayan Vegas emerging from the pressure of her fingers on the keyboard. She sent the board progress reports, We are on target! highlighting achievement and indicating entities that had tried to screw her over. We are glad you’re there, wrote the board. This is the level of expertise we had hoped for.
Sometimes her concentration broke and she became aware of other things, the constant crash of waves, the almost imperceptible grit of sand rolling between the sheets and her legs.
The night the men finished the first building, twenty rooms, five with a pool view, she emailed photos to the new PR consultant, sat cross-legged in her rumpled sheets and mashed headphones into her ears. Conversación viente y ocho: Raúl pregunta dirreciones a la tienda de ropa. Tari said, cuadra, isquierda, norte, camiso, and then yanked on the headphone cord. The tiny speakers pulled out of her ears and she heard silence, her windows shut, the air conditioner paused. She listened for the sound of the armed guard walking by. She thought his name was Eduardo or Hector and she felt how small and flimsy the trailer was, tin and vinyl and pressboard. She took out a tube of concealer and flopped the sponge across her face. She opened her screen door and yelled, “Hey.”
“Hey,” she yelled again.
Across the dark she saw the glowing end of the guard’s cigarette.
She went out to him and knelt, ran her hands against the ground, until she felt leaves brush her palm.
“Here,” she said. “Here,” and pulled up the plant. “See?” She showed it to the man.
His body was thick and squat and he had a semi-automatic rifle strapped across his chest.
“Here,” she said. “Come down here. You don’t do anything all night.” Tari pulled up the delicate leaves of another small plant. “These are weeds. We must stop them.”
The man stepped back from her.
“Jesus Christ,” Tari said and went back to her trailer, shutting the door tight against the night and the plants creaking up out of the earth.
The doctor in Cozumel spoke some English. He had her defecate into a tiny petri-dish.
“You have parasites,” he said.
About the flakey white skin around the edges of her mouth he said, “Fungus. No make-up.”
Tari Ann emailed Brad.
“I was thinking about that golf-course idea. Would you be interested in coming down to teach? I need someone with your talent and personality.”
The board president visited three days before Mayan Vegas expected its first paying customers. Construction still raged and troops of maids walked across the pitted earth in their sturdy, low-heeled slip-ons, learning about bed making and vacuuming from their bilingual manager, in half-finished rooms and on mattresses stacked in impermanent metal storage units. The chef and his staff practiced the buffet—breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner—feeding the workers. Tari Ann’s stomach bloated.
She put concealer on her splotchy face and went out to meet the car. She hustled the president through the still unpainted entrance building.
“The Mayan Strip,” she said, sweeping her arm out in front of her.
They walked up the quarter-mile path serpentineing through the shrunken Las Vegas attractions. A twenty-foot-tall Stratosphere, etched with Mayan glyphs, doubled as a climbing wall. New New York New York had a few feet of roller coaster track laid in a ring around it. Farther up a small gondola floated in a small pool. A man with a pole and in a Mariachi outfit stood at the helm.
“Get in. Get in,” said Tari.
She pushed the president up the two steps and he awkwardly lowered himself into the rocking boat. Tari flipped a switch and a motor started up, making a current that the mariachi man used his pole to fight. The man sang Guantanamera over the sound of the motor, the gondola bumping the side of the pool.
“Oh. Yes,” said the president, unsure where to look. When the man started in on the ay ay ay ay’s of Canta y No Llores, the president said, “That was nice,” and fled the boat.
They paused in front of the mini-MGM, what appeared to be an empty zoo exhibit.
“I’m glad you are here,” said Tari. “The lion has been a problem with customs. What about using a person? Kind of a Cirque thing. Cheaper. Or iguanas. Think about it. Let’s show you your room.”
She took out her concealer.
Tari Ann believed in Mayan Vegas. She believed in the design, each small building a Vegas experience made intimate. A few go-go dancers in Caesar’s Casa, three black jack tables at the Mandalay Bahía, Paco Suza Illusionista, family friendly from noon to eight, adult themed from eight to one, performed atop the indoor Eifel Tower at Parisíto and video poker machines in each building. Labor was inexpensive enough to have someone at every door who could say, Sorry, we are full. You will enjoy El Grupo de Hombres Rojo at the Treasure Cay.
Watching this American in his Hugo Boss pin stripes she felt, for the first time, that the buildings might be small, not intimate, that a climb on her Stratosphere could not compete with the huge walls at Club Med or a bungee jump off the real building.
She found a foreman and told him, “You. All of you need to know that to have a return you must invest. I am watching.” She tapped the side of her head, near her eye.
Brad arrived. His tan was perfect and his shoulders broad. Tari Ann rubbed on more concealer. She took him to his room and shut the door, but the sound of hammering and electric saws still came in.
“Vegas cannot question itself,” she said.
He put his hands on her hips.
“I don’t think I can,” she said and tried to suck in her ballooned stomach.
Brad pulled out some papers covered in elaborate script.
“It’s a deed. For a piece of the moon,” he said.
“I don’t have a space ship.”
He walked to the window and touched the frame.
“Is this legally binding?” she asked. “Tari Ann? What’s that?”
“On the far side. A crater. It seemed more right than a sea. Look on the satellite photo. Next to Izcak.”
“We can’t build on the moon yet. I’ll show you the golf area.”
There was a putting green and a small corridor of driving range.
“No course,” said Brad.
“We’ve got a lot to do. Our funding. All those trees. They aren’t even mine. I’ve got a conference call. The chef will make you whatever you like but say it in Spanish.”
She smeared concealer on her face.
She could feel Brad staring after her and did not breath until she heard his club swish though the air, crack against balls.
In the first week tourists trickled in. They came for the grand opening deals, Germans and Italians wading through the pools. They hunched over video poker machines and took meringue lessons on the beach. There were not many of them, not the drunken herds in Speedos, shelling out for the sight-seeing tours and the taxies that promised kickbacks to Mayan Vegas, not what Tari Ann had expected and she sent staff to the Cancun airport to clack together coupons for free shows and drinks in the faces of tourists waiting to be put in vans and whisked to other resorts.
“Like this.” She wrenched the wrists of her employees. “Want it. I’ll know if you don’t. Say it: Our all-inclusive can include you.”
Brad taught a few lessons. Private or couples. The area was not big enough for anything else.
She had her trailer pulled into the jungle skirting the resort and lay there at night, her stomach cramped, till she rose to hunt weeds.
By the end of the first week Tari had sold none of the rooms as vacation condos. The authorities had come three times and extracted huge cash bribes to keep quiet about the blackjack tables. The gondola leaked from smashing against the pool wall and the Stratosphere had a crack running down the middle of the poured cement.
“We’ll put some steel cable around it. It’s fine. Tie pillows to the boat. Call it a dream boat.”
It was noon. Brad sat at a row of video poker machines in the dark of Caesar’s Casa. No tourists came in and the go-go dancers lounged on the stage, chatting. Tari closed her eyes, angry that she could not remember how to say stand up in Spanish. At her hip a walkie-talkie crackled and she hoped someone would need her. Brad put a dollar in a machine.
“It accepts dollars,” he said.
“I’m not going to make it pro.”
He taped the computer screen.
“You know, you told me there would be a course here. I thought there was something I could be a part of. And that you might be asking me to come.”
“You asked a golf teacher. The money’s better in Vegas.”
“Vegas is dead,” she said. “Vegas lives here now.”
“Honey my ass.”
“I’ve had an offer from a place in L.A. They need a sales exec, too,” he said. “You’ve had some setbacks.”
“You don’t see it. You’ve never seen it. You talked about New York, about L.A., on our first date. You’re like them all. The oldest living things in the world grow in the desert and in the mountains of Vegas. Bristlecone pines. Scrubby and hard as a rock and four thousand years old. Nothing grows like that here. Here I go to sleep and in the morning a tree has shot up outside my window. But those pyramids. All those Mayan pyramids, they got built and everyone was sacrificed on them and they were telling the calendar back when the bristlecone started. That desert? How can people stay there? Where it is so slow? Everyone goes. The Indians and the prospectors and the Mob, for God’s sake. But here. Maria. Are you Mayan? Of course she is. You know how the desert smells in the rain. Creosote. Growing a centimeter a year. Spiky plants with tiny leaves, little nothing bushes five-hundred years old out next to a freeway. Out behind the Golden Nugget. Creosote are clonal. They grow in rings, a single plant sending branches farther and farther out. The center dies but that land inside, the water, the space for roots, the creosote claims it. There is a bush in the Mojave that is twelve thousand years old. And only so big. How can Vegas live in such a place? Those tortoises all wrinkled like old men and haven’t done anything but sleep in their holes for twenty million years. Vegas can’t be there. But people that understand don’t forget all those slow, hard plants. How to not wait for paradise. Here. Here is the place. Here, where every morning the land is new.”
She snatched out her concealer.
The walkie-talkie said, “Incoming.”
She yanked it off her belt. “Roger.”
She walked from the casino and outside a van opened its doors and four tourists, ooing and ahing the Mayan Strip, stepped out.
“Thank you,” she said to the driver whose name was Rudolfo or Rodrigo. She bent to pull a weed and then turned to the visitors.
“Welcome,” said Tari Ann. “Welcome to Mayan Vegas. If you have a dream we will make it come true.”