If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Real life does occur in Vegas. Normal people live here. Sam is one. He truly is a well adjusted, thriving resident religiously on time with the rent, current with his credit cards--mostly. He keeps a regular non-gaming job, grills steaks and dogs on weekends, saves for his kids college funds, stays on level terms with his ex-wife, watches football on TV ignorant of the spread, listens to classical music on internet radio. To locals like Sam, the novelty of the Las Vegas Strip is not an attraction, destination or detour; it is an obstacle to avoid along the serious highway of life toward the prosperous normal parts of town. That is not to say the touristy, subtly sinful Strip is not wondrous, tempting, unequaled entertainment. The casinos and mega-resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard are surreal adult playpens…for visitors. There is a darker side to Vegas vacationers never visit. City-wide skid rows; transient, transparent, as dysfunctional in their fluid cosmopolitan makeup than definably unstable, flourish nightly on countless dim lit Vegas streets. Thorson moved in next door to Sam. Thank a flaw somewhere in his ancestral gene pool as Thorson’s contribution to the dysfunctional side of Vegas.

Sam was cordial to his new neighbor that first week in August. He approached Thorson and his friends as they perched on the diamond plate Tommy Gate of the rented U-Haul. They were on break from lugging Thorson‘s stuff in the apartment next door. A full cooler of iced beer sat on the ground below them.

Before Sam could form up a greeting Thorson chirped, “How you doin’?” Sam’s new neighbor reached out to shake his hand, “Thor, short for Thorson. I prefer Thor. Wanna a beer?” Thorson’s voice was a garish shriek, as if a wood tongue depressor had been deliberately broken off in his throat.

Sam paused a moment, holding back a chuckle before he spoke, “Yes… Well… I’m Sam. I‘ll pass on the beer,” Sam smirked. The name ‘Thor’ just did not fit. That handle had too many masculine connotations Thorson lacked. Numerous chrome-plated metal decorations stabbed his face. Sam hesitated to guess what other covered parts of Thorson might be pierced. He was Baby Huey fat. He kept his Cleveland Cavaliers sleeveless basketball jersey tucked in, revealing flabby upper arms. The olive drab military belt looped round his wrinkled desert camouflage cargo pants cinched his mid-section a notch too narrow, revealing a bull nose cliff of flab all ‘round. His pant waist fit well above his hip. The crotch appeared to sport too high a rise, perhaps affecting that part of the anatomy that can change a man’s voice from normal to a high-pitched, pig-like squeal similar to the deformed tones gurgling from Thorson’s larynx. His puffy, cherubic cheeks betrayed a drinking problem with a wild guess at what else he consumed. His eyes appeared as bloodshot as rotting egg yokes. Sparse, fine blond stubble sprouted in splotchy patches across his face; not enough to sport a beard, but rather an indication he was too lazy to shave the islands of thin soft fuzz blooming between his metallic facial adornments. Thorson’s manner, appearance, limited vocabulary, hissing voice struck Sam as that of a grown man still suffering prepubescent metabolic chaos.

“Well, we gotta get goin’” Thorson rasped. “Only half way moved in and it’s gettin hotter by the minute.”

“It’s 110 degrees out now. Just looked,” Sam said.

“I didn’t know the heat gets this bad here,” Thorson whined.

“You could have picked a better time of year to move,” Sam advised. “Doesn’t start cooling down in Vegas ’till mid-October, beginning of November. Good luck.”

“Hey! Later me and these guys are goin’ to a tit bar off the Strip. Why don’cha come with us? We’ll hoot at the dancers’n stick dollar bills in their g-strings.”

“Can’t do it,” Sam said. “Want to finish up a book, see the news, get to bed early.” Thorson’s face expressed blank-eyed shock Sam would skip a good time in Vegas.

“Alright dude, but your goin’ to miss some fun,” Thorson said, disappointed Sam refused.

“Thanks though,” Sam said. Sam quit the high-end tit bars years ago when he realized paying for a peek excluded touching the product too.

All his stuff moved in, the first priority, Thorson’s new X-Box, quickly wired in and set up, came to life. Thunder, explosions, passionate yelps of victory, and grunts of defeat rang out through Sam’s wall. Thorson and his helpers lounged on his pristine soon to be violated Cool Deck coated porch. They drank beer mixed with Red Bull to stay drunk longer without passing out. They loudly flattened empty beer cans on the porch floor and tossed them like Frisbees at passing traffic on the street beyond the parking lot wall. One broke out pot, another produced a bag of yellowish, speedy rocks and glass pipe. They butted their cigarettes on the quickly blackened surface of his porch floor; hurled empty beer cans across the parking lot competing to be the first to land one on top the corrugated steel roof of the covered parking structure. They waxed drunker, higher, noisier; sprung well past the ionosphere from the jumping board of ‘go fast’ rock cocaine. They left for the strip tease circuit near midnight, defective mufflers roaring, tires spinning, hurling mocking insults at each other as they thumped over speed bumps that failed to slow them. Then silence.

Sam caught Thorson in the parking lot next evening, “Kinda loud late last night. Won’t be a habit will it?”

“Naa. Just wanted to show my buddies that helped me move a good time. Sorry. Were we too loud?”

Sam let it go.

Toward the end of August, Sam up late past midnight on a Saturday lit a cigarette on his porch. Just off swing shift, Thorson waddled along the curb edge of the complex parking lot toward his front door. He wore a starchy, well pressed police blue permanently creased uniform shirt with “Thor” stitched in flaring gold Mistral Script above his left breast pocket. A shield shaped shoulder patch advertised a local armored truck outfit that saw fit to employ him. His verdant jungle camo pants looked soiled wrinkled, unwashed in the dim night-lights. He slung his pistol belt over his shoulder, as if fatigued from a rough day sitting on top all those bags of cash at fifteen dollars an hour. He walked hunched over in a slow, heal dragging shuffle as if he were an overworked Egyptian slave struggling to haul another chiseled granite block to the top of the ruling Pharaoh’s tomb.

“What caliber pistol is that?” Sam asked.

Thorson stopped, stood up straight, his hollow eyes turned bright, enthusiastic. He proudly blurted, “A Beretta nine. Fourteen rounds. Fifteen with one in the chamber.” Thorson slickly slipped a hollow point bullet from his belt as if it were a precious nugget of gold plucked from a miner’s sluice, handed it to Sam and lectured, “With this, you aim at the asshole’s head, you take his fuckin’ shoulder with it. It’s like a mini-bomb; explodes on impact.” Sam shook his head up and down as if enlightened.

“Yeah. I never had ta use my piece. Ya never know though, the day might come,” Thorson eagerly implied.

“Damned impressive,” Sam sarcastically exclaimed. Thorson oozed of instability. Add a gun to that affliction and a formula for disaster brewed.

Thorson had toured enough tit clubs, bars, ‘Rub and Tug’ massage parlors to blaze a nightly round trip trail from and to his apartment each night after work. By October, he became an honored regular at the pricier spots along his route. The multi-colored neon glitz of Vegas nightlife gripped Thorson past mere short time tourist fascination. It gnawed at him, chewed, swallowed, digested bits of him as if he were the favorite tray on a local’s only buffet. This sleepless twenty-four hour adult Disneyland had Thorson hypnotized. As if it were the first euphoric high off a rock that eludes you each hit after, Vegas became an instant addiction, a high Thorson ineptly chased ceaselessly, carelessly.

Some get tricked quick, hooked, burned up, fried crisp on the Vegas grill of thrills. Thorson was about to be served up charbroiled.

Through November, Thorson cultivated a coterie of loud, pinch faced, hollow minded, imitation Thorson clones. Three weekends that month a steady stream of tattoo coated characters draped in stainless steel lip, ear and nose rings, clumpy black boots, jangling silver chains strung from belt loops and hip pockets steadily slinked in and out of Thorson’s apartment from Friday night to early Sunday morning. All were welcome, stranger or not. Excessive body piercing was not a requirement as long as they brought alcohol or pot, or rocks. Thorson kept the volume of his CD player well up above normal. ‘Kill the dog, shoot the kids, beat the wife’ music rattled pictures on Sam’s side of their shared communal wall. The gang smoked, drank, pissed on the bushes outside Thorson’s apartment past dawn. Some settled on Thorson’s porch, flicked still lit cigarette butts near Sam’s front door betting on who would light up his outdoor wicker chair first. A few roamed the parking lot spotting hot selling rims they conspired to steal later, sat on hoods of cars they didn’t own drinking and smoking. Thorson was the noisiest of them all, his laughter blasted loud as a yodel heard three buildings down. He and his buds invaded, terrorized the complex. Monday mornings, when Sam left for work, Thorson’s porch landing lay littered with beer cans, paraphernalia and an occasional overnight visitor sprawled out on a cheap vinyl beach chair.

After a month of Thorson’s weekend parties, Sam caught his neighbor leaving for his shift, wrinkled camo cargo pants cinched too tight around his mid-drift, stiff work shirt on this back, the Beretta strapped to his hip.

“Your weekend sprees are gettin’ out-a-hand Thorson. “

“Call me Thor,” he said, as if the conversation would not continue until Sam got his name right.

“No…. you go to Hell Thorson. Quit this shit. Give me peace.”

“No! Fuck you Sam. I’ll do what I want,” Thorson grasped his pistol grip.

Sam knew better than to argue with a man who wears a gun. He abruptly turned his back to Thorson, left for his apartment. Sam retrieved his .45 revolver from a tattered shoebox, cleaned and loaded it, placed it in the drawer of his bed stand.

A light snow coated the desert floor Thanksgiving Day. Sam watched football and read three Bukowski novels in three days. Quiet, solemn, alone on Christmas Day. Sam read Plath, Stallings, Justice, emailed his folks back east the usual platitudinous holiday greetings, called his ex in Reno; spoke briefly with the kids. They thanked him for the toys he sent then they ran off to unwrap more. Later Sam had dinner alone at the Fiesta Casino buffet on Lone Mountain and Rancho.

New Years Eve in Vegas tops New Orleans Mardi Gras, Rio Carnival for unruliness, debauchery, mob rule. It’s commonly regarded by local Vegas residents as ’Amateur Night;” an annual reason for tourists from around the world to inundate the Strip, drink too much, coke up, shoot up, smoke up, pretend the law does not apply to them while the locals stay inside. Sam stayed in. The party at Thorson’s apartment peaked near midnight. Thorson drunkenly waded through the crowd, his Beretta cocked in hand. He stepped out on his porch and popped three caps off in the air the last three seconds of the old year. After midnight, Thorson and his band headed for the Strip. Peace ensued. Sam slept.

Near noon, New Years Day, an under-age girl, probably dressed slutty at first, now in ragged slept in clothes, just awake, bra-less, her ratty, tangled blond hair a nest, stained mini skirt smelling of alcohol and too much sex knocked on Sam’s door.

“Can I use your phone?” the still drunk bimbo asked. “I woke up alone. There’s no one at your neighbor’s apartment.”

“Do you even know my neighbor’s name?

“No. Some one else I don’t know brought me here. I don‘t remember much else.” Sam let her in and handed her his cell.

Five calls later, after every recipient of her calls refused to rescue her, she asked Sam to drive her home. He wiped his phone with Lysol and led her to his car. Her house was only a few blocks away, near Cheyenne and Craig. The drive was much longer than Sam’s frazzled patience.

Sam got the collect call later that afternoon, “I accept the charges,” Sam agreed. He wondered why Thorson didn‘t have a quarter for a local call.

“Sam? …. Thor here,” Thorson slurred.

“Yeah, I know. What is it Thorson?”

“They stole my car, my cell phone, my wallet. They kyped my gun. Can you come get me?”

“Who are they Thorson?”

“My buddies at the party at my house last night. Come get me,” Thorson empirically demanded.

“Where are you?

“I don’t know.”

“You’re at a pay phone?


“Damn Thorson. Shoot me a flare. Describe some land marks idiot!”

“I’m a block from a titty bar called Loose Babes.”

Sam was familiar with that part of town. It was near Valley View and Desert Inn; a ghetto the locals dub ‘Naked City.’ Topless bars, hookers, criminals, cops, panhandlers, homeless reign in this part of town. It sets the standard for the bottom end of life Vegas breeds.

“Alright asshole. This shit stops now,” Sam growled.

Thorson teetered, wavered, bounced against the glass in the urine stained phone booth, red faced, pants and shirt soiled and torn, nodding, sick, on the verge of alcohol poisoning. “I’m fucked,” Thorson wailed. “My mom and dad’l sling me from my balls for this.”

“Do they live here, in town?” Sam was surprised.

“Yeah. Two blocks away.”

“Call them!”

“They’ll be pissed, hold back my allowance, ground me.”

“Your allowance! Goddamn Thorson. I don’t care. You’re a grown man with a twelve-year old mentality. Call your parents Thorson. I’m not daddy.” Sam hung up and continued watching the Rose Bowl game.

Thorson’s parents brought him home a few hours later. They stayed with Thorson two days straight to clean him up. Thorson’s father knocked on Sam’s door before he and his wife went back home.

“I’m Thorson’s father. Thorson thinks very highly of you. He respects you. He believes you are peaceful, honorable, straightforward.”

“I’ve tried to deceive him otherwise,” Sam angrily retorted. “I’d rather he fear me than think of me in any other capacity than peaceful, honorable, straightforward.” Sam grew angrier, “Thorson is a drunk, a drug fiend. He’s obtuse, inconsiderate. I’m not fond of him as a neighbor. He belongs in rehab for a month… longer. Why don‘t you see to it. He has the mentality of a Wall Mart greeter. He’ll be harmless to himself and others near him in that environment if given simpler tasks assigned to him like gathering shopping carts from the parking lot or greeting customers at the door. Oh yah, and don‘t let the asshole get another gun either; he couldn’t keep track of the one he had.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. It’s the truth, every word. When we retired here from Cleveland, he came with us. We rented this apartment for him. His job sends his paychecks directly to us. We control his finances because he‘s incapable of such a task. We give him a weekly allowance from it and pay all his bills. Sometimes we supplement his pocket money if he wants a new video game or other necessity. Truth is we aren’t able to manage him when he lives with us. This is his first experience living alone.”

“Christ! The separation isn’t working well...Is it? He’s thirty-years old. What’s his phobia?” Sam blurted.

“Immaturity mostly. He just never grew up.” Guilt ridden, Thorson’s father stared down at his spotless wing tip shoes.

“Lucky you,” Sam’s sarcasm again. “You control his money but can’t control your son. Classic enablers; that’s you and ‘ma.’ Thorson isn’t intellectually capable of progressing past childhood. He’s emotionally crippled, shallow in ways a shrink would diagnose as too psychologically damaged to repair. Even you realize that. Don’t you! Most of all he’s a nuisance to me.”

“We’re aware of his condition, but there‘s no helping it. He’s aware of his condition. We just can’t take him living with us anymore. We keep him close instead. I apologize for his behavior.”

“No need to apologize,” Sam growled, “I hear that crap from Thorson every day he screws up. His behavior doesn’t change--apology or no.”

Thorson’s father backed away, sensing Sam’s impatience was struggling at the tethered end of anger. “Please help us?”

“So, essentially you want him to be any one else’s problem but yours. I am the fortunate surrogate you want to take your place. Does that sum it up?”

“Not in so many words. But, we could use your help.”

“I’m not pop or mom. If Thorson does not calm down, I won’t call the cops, although I should. I’ll just take matters into my own hands. You won’t like it. He’ll like it less.”

“Maybe that reaction is exactly what he needs,” Thorson’s father meekly encouraged with regret, “We don’t know what else to do.”

“Man, you must be desperate if you want me to discipline your little boy. Commit the fuck!” Sam threw the door shut.

For a week, Sam brooded. “I’m too blessed with decency, compassion,” Sam moaned aloud. “Why me?” he grieved. “God damn… I’ll regret this. I know I will.”

Sam caught Thorson on his porch hunched over, head covered in a black hooded sweater, dripping beads of perspiration, chain smoking, cowering, hiding from the stark emptiness of another alcohol free day. Sam approached him, gently laid a hand on Thorson’s shoulder and asked sympathetically “How’s it going Thorson?”

“I got fired last week,” he almost whimpered. “Missed too much work, they said. Cops are still looking for my car. They took my gun permit too. Couldn’t find my keys so Mom and dad paid to have the locks changed. They aren’t giving me any money. I’ve been sober seven days though. Dad told me he’d get me new video games if I stay clean a month.” Thorson moped, stared at the stained porch floor cow eyed, shaking uncontrollably with the DT’s as if struck with malaria. Thorson resembled a tail tucked, gun-shy pup running rear end first from a rifle blast.

“Real hard task masters--your parents,” Sam mocked. “If there’s anything you need just let me know, I’ll help you get through this if I can.” Thorson was mute. Instead, he lit another cigarette from the cherry of the last, continued staring at the floor as if it held an antidote for his condition.

Sam took the pistol from his bed stand drawer unloaded it and placed the piece back in its shoe box, broke out his checkbook, paid bills, replayed Schubert‘s “Unfinished“ Symphony.

Thorson managed to stay sober, a month and one day. He got his new video games.

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Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


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