I spent a lot of time in Vegas in the spring of ‘88. Back when a casino was a casino, before the Mickey Mouse Club took over. Though I was living in Arizona at the time, Sin City hosted no less than three major trade conventions during those first few months of the year. Ruth and the kids were visiting her mother in Florida. She called it a vacation but who pulls their kids out of school for three weeks? Moreover, I wasn’t invited. So I threw myself into my work.
The company I worked for manufactures the little motors that power those pictures of lakes where the water seems to move. You know the kind, I’m sure. You’ve seen them in bars. Anyway, between the Restaurant Supply Show in February, the Bar and Tavern Association in March, and the Electronics Expo in April, I was swamped.
I spent a lot of time drunk that spring. I justified it as professional camaraderie, doing my small part by perpetuating the secret alcoholic agenda that hides beneath every convention. I know now that I was really trying to muffle my disgust for the whole racket.
Convention people are the worst kind of people. They thrive on plastic name-tags, cellophane tote-bags, and exclusive freebies. Useless shit. Try drunkenly negotiating a motel door weighed down by eight pounds of free samples sometime. It gets old fast. Naively, I thought some liquid courage might blot out how out of place I secretly felt among the suits and slackers which explains why I was drinking alone in a seedy dive three blocks off the strip the night I met the alien.
It makes a helluvalotta sense in retrospect. Las Vegas itself never struck me as entirely earthly. Driving along the highway in the dark felt like space travel as I pushed my avocado-green Chevy towards warp speed. By the time I hit Zzyzx Road, I felt as though I was bound for a parallel universe of some kind. And when the city itself appeared on the horizon it was like a giant, ostentatious alien vessel that had the audacity to crash-land in the middle of nowhere and set up shop.
So I was at this seedy bar, drinking gin and tonic without the tonic, and admiring my handiwork on a large picture of Niagara Falls that hung on the wall. Like I said, you find them in bars. A man sat down on the stool next to mine.
“Mind if I join you, Mr. Sale?” he asked.
He was a stocky guy, fair-haired and balding, with no chin to speak of; his lower lip pretty much followed a straight line down to his collar, like a buzzard without the beak. Everything about his face was vague. Somehow he looked like a blurry photograph or the fading recollection of a small-talk stranger. Instantly forgettable, save the suggestion of a light blonde mustache that was invisible except for when the light caught it just right, and it gleamed against his waxy skin.
“How’d you know my name?” I asked, too drunk to remember I’d forgotten to take off my convention badge. He told me so with no sense of irony. Then he ordered shots of bourbon, rum, and tequila, and downed them each consecutively. The guy could put it away. His suit was a decent Armani knockoff (you can usually spot them by the buttons) but it was a color I’d never seen. Sort of a metallic teal that turned green depending on the light. I asked him if he was here for the convention.
“No, I’m a space alien,” he said.
“That’s just fine,” I laughed. I ordered another and braced myself for an earful of cocktail babble. But the alien was silent. Everything about him seemed to ripple. He was a mylar mirage amidst the cigarette smoke and chicken-scratch mirrors. Then again, I was loaded. And dark bars play jokes on the eyes. It could have been a trick of the light, like my waterfall on the wall.
So I sat there, snapping salt crystals off a stale pretzel with my two front teeth, watching him drink and wondering what his story was. He downed a shot of Jameson—then a White Russian. Seemed set on sampling the bar in its entirety, from Aqua Velva to Zinfandel. I couldn’t help but stare. He smiled back and nodded affably, then went back to his current drink of the moment.
“So what planet are you from?” I blurted. He looked quizzically at the olive in his martini and mumbled that it was nowhere I’d ever heard of. He didn’t seem drunk in the least.
“Try me,” I said. I’m a failure as a husband and a father, but I aced ninth grade astronomy.
“We move in ways beyond you,” he said. “No coordinates I could write on this cocktail napkin, no latitude or longitude.”
”Somewhere in space,” I said, sloppily downing a handful of mixed nuts. “You can chart it.” The whole thing was so absurd, I wanted to believe him. He watched me eat like he’d never seen someone do that, his inscrutable expression somewhere between disgust and scientific fascination.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sale, but I’m afraid it’s beyond you. As far as you’re concerned, my planet could just as well be at the bottom of this shotglass.”
I closed my tab.
“Going home?” he asked.
Home was an empty motel room and a bathtub full of free bumper stickers.
“Yeah,” I said. “Don’t want the mothership to take off without me.” I can be a sardonic sonofabitch when I’m drunk. For some reason, I thought of Ruth.
“Would you like to know when your world is going to end?”
“My world?” I laughed. “My world? Sure, I’ll bite.”
“Are you sure?”
I nodded sleepily, figuring he owed me some kind of payoff. “March 7, 1992.” He smoothed his tie and headed for the door. “Take care,” he said without looking back. I wasn’t chilled, or touched in the least. There isn’t a bar in the world lacking some nutter predicting imminent and global doom.
It wasn’t until Ruth and the kids died in a freeway pile up four years later that I gave the matter a second thought.
Harry Chaskin has written and directed projects for Adult Swim, Warner Brothers, Netflix, DC Comics, and more. Check out his work at Harrychaskin.com