By then, it was intermission. I hung back near the Men’s room waiting for it to clear out. While I was sure that I wouldn’t be the first to gag over a urinal in Las Vegas, I didn’t want anyone to do something crazy like “get concerned and call a doctor.” An ambulance would have been a king-hell bummer. Once people cleared out, I got down to business. Once I finished retching up the last of the gritty cactus, I noticed that I was not alone in the Men’s Room. I saw the feet of an old man standing next to me. He was wearing sandals, the kind that he had made himself. He must have been in his eighties; bald, sported a thick mustache, carried a cane, wore round wire-rim glasses, and had a small red dot on his forehead.
At first, I figured he was part of the show, but he wasn’t a clown. I looked up and the person who was standing there and I saw he was dressed in a glowing-white dhoti and had a kediya draped over his shoulders. He looked like one of the hotel guests wrapped in a bed sheet and was locked out of his room.
The walls were really starting to throb right then; I could feel the waves coming over me. There was a deep humming sound, like the sound of electricity surging through the walls, in the background.
I tried to act natural, and I asked, “Isn’t it cold for you?”
He responded, “The cold does not bother me,” pointing toward the ceiling as if for divine emphasis as he spoke. His accent told me he was from Gujarat; the state just north of Mumbai in India.
“I am here to ask you a question,” he said. He walked across the bathroom toward the sinks, lamenting the fact that several guests had not cleaned up after themselves. He humbled himself and collected the left over paper towels, wiped off the sink, and deposited them in the wastepaper basket. It was only then that he washed his hands. As he turned toward me, I began to hear the clicking sound of thousands of roulette wheels in the casino; the clicking sounds were disparate at first, but as time when on, they fell into line and synchronized themselves as if they were all part of a large clock, falling into time, corresponding in the second, fractions of a seconds, and fractions of fractions of seconds. Then, all I could hear was the sound of a single click. Then, I could hear the croupier casting the ball into the roulette track running around the wheel. I couldn’t tell how croupiers there were: maybe it was one , and maybe there were ten thousand. All the wheels were spinning at once.
The die was cast, and who knew what Luck held in her hands? The walls breathing and, for an instant, if it persisted, all of the balls seemed as if they were going to fall into the same numbered pocket. The humming of the currents raging through the walls grew stronger and more intense; it was building up toward a climax. Then, he spoke.
Is this your birthplace?
Still wiping vomit from my lips, I muttered, “Is this my what?”
“Is this your birthplace?” he asked again, politely, as if he already knew the response, everyone knew, the whole world knew, and they were all awaiting my response.
The question was absurd, impossible. No one had ever been born in the Men’s Room of the Bellagio. At least, if it had happened, the management kept it quite. Moreover, I knew that it had never happened to me. This was my first time in the desert out west; I was with my mother when I was born, and she had never left Indiana. But words don’t always mean what we think they mean. Something told me he wasn’t asking about a physical birth, maybe this was the place that something in me was to be born, all I had to do was answer yes, all I had to do was say yes and it would happen, a celestial configuration so vast and great that clocks would stop, all of the slots would land on jackpots, oceans would rise, California would fall into the sea, power would go out in New York, and a forest would start to grow in Nevada.
As I started to respond, I could feel nature’s forces beginning to align, tension was building, and the stars and planets were coming into alighment.
In a resounding voice, he asked again, “Is this your birthplace?”
I thought to myself. This is too much: I felt moody, anxious, confused, and I had tremors. It was raining sideways, and I couldn’t open my umbrella. He’s got the wrong guy! He has to be looking for someone else. The poor bastard must have been waiting there for hours, maybe days. I don’t know what could have possessed him to think that I was the person he had been waiting for. There was no way I could practice ahimsa, I was a bona-fide meat eater, a lover of all that is ham, salami, and chorizo. Who cares if a pig gets kacked! You just can’t get that kind of flavor from tofu. Nor was I the guy to practice satyagraha because celibacy really sucked. I could think of nothing nicer than air conditioning, big screen TVs, good food, and loud music. No, he definitely had the wrong guy!
I finally muttered, “No. This isn’t my birthplace.” The buzzing sound of electricity left the room, and there was a strange, lingering silence while the planets and stars went back to their normal course; California stayed right where it was; the ocean continued sending waves to crash on the beach and roll back; there weren’t any mass jackpots; the winning roulette numbers were all different; the tumble weeds keep rolling across the desert; and, the only power outage was in lobby when the management shut off lights to call the audience back from intermission. I was disappointed, yet relieved. At least the pressure was off.
I wondered what would have happened if I had said yes. Then, he spoke again.
Vell, do you have a map, then? I am trying to find the Hotel Aria. There is supposed to be a wery good Spanish restaurant there.
Oh, if you go to the hotel lobby, just ask the doorman to hail you a cab. Or, if you’re walking, turn to the right on Las Vegas Boulevard.
I said goodbye to him just outside the Men’s room. I needed to find my way back to my seat before the second half of the show got started. When I arrived, my wife asked me what took me so long, and I said some guy needed directions. “What? Did he think you were born here? Why didn’t you tell him you weren’t from around here?” she asked.
I rest of the show was spectacular, incoherent but spectacular. When we returned to the hotel, we packed because the flight out was early in the morning. I didn’t sleep; I spent the rest of the night watching over the girls and my wife as they slept. It was quiet, and I was glad we were leaving Vegas. The place was just too damn weird. My only memento from our trip—besides the strange encounter in the Men’s Room of the Bellagio—was a court jester hat in the Cirque de Soleil gift shop. I also purchased a red-velvet top hat for my oldest daughter, similar to what the Cat in the Hat wore.
The sun came up right around six. After juice and toast, we headed for the airport. I asked the Sri Lankan bellman if he had seen the old man from the Bellagio, the one who had asked me if Vegas were my birthplace. He said: “I see him all the time. Here you see it all, and none of it makes sense.”