There are nights when you're alone and there are nights when you're very alone. A few years ago, I had a night in Las Vegas where I was
about the alonest human being on the planet; this, despite the fact that I was surrounded by thousands of other people, everywhere I went.
I suppose I could have gone back to my room instead of wandering the casinos but then I would have been alone, all by myself. If you're
going to be really and truly alone, it's nice to have others around you.
(I think what I'm getting at here is that there's a difference between being alone and just being by yourself. "Being by yourself"
merely means that you're not with anyone and there are times when that's fine, even preferable. But "being alone" indicates a certain void —
being isolated at a time when you'd rather have someone there, especially a certain someone.)
I didn't go to Vegas to be alone; it just worked out that way. When I arrived there, I had a person with me...one of those "certain
someones," I'd thought. Halfway through what had been planned as a three day outing, things had finally reached the point where...well, I handed her
return ticket to her, gave her money for a cab, and suggested she use both as soon as possible. She did — gladly — and, thereafter, I was
alone. It felt, for a time, strangely comfortable. It often does.
So I wandered down the Strip...just walking, just thinking...too distracted to gamble, too bothered to eat, too annoyed by it all to
take in a show. Our bust-up occurred outside Bally's around 7 PM. By 9:00, I was ambling about Circus Circus, frustrated to be alone but
finding it infinitely preferable to having her around. Circus Circus was, as always, loud and raucous and abuzz with humanity...which, of course,
made me feel all the more alone, for I was not a part of it.
And what really made me feel alone was that, not only did I not have anyone to talk to, I couldn't think of a single person on the face
of the planet I wanted to talk to; not at that moment. (Before this gets too depressing: This was a temporary condition...and what got me through it,
of course, was that I knew that at the time. I well knew that the next morning, after a good night's sleep and an all-out assault on the Gallery
Buffet at Harrah's, I wouldn't be anywhere near as alone, even though I still wouldn't have anyone with me. Which is exactly what happened. But I get
"down" about one night a year on average and this was it for '92.)
Then as now, Circus Circus looked like some casino exec had a theory: The more unsightly the decor, the more money people will lose in
it. The whole place was furnished in Early Upchuck by a designer who obviously got a price break on Shocking Pink latex paint. The nicest thing you
could say about the ambiance was that it made Vegas World look tasteful by comparison.
Still, the place was packed that night...not though including anyone with whom I could imagine having a conversation. I wandered up to
the top floor, where they have mutant arcade games for kids...I wandered through the gift shop where one could purchase souvenirs cheesy enough to be
placed in a mouse trap...I wandered past the Circus Circus McDonald's which, given its surroundings, almost looked like a refined, dignified gourmet
And then I noticed three rather incredible rear ends.
That is usually not my way of noticing women. Before and since, I have routinely mocked males who react to women by noticing their
bodies first, their personalities later, if at all. I find that attitude tawdry and childish and shallow.
But they really did have incredible rear ends and, at that moment, I felt tawdry and childish and, yes, even shallow. Plus, remember
please, this was Las Vegas — the tawdry/childish/shallow capital of the world.
Three women were standing there in sequined acrobat outfits and I knew at once they were trapeze artists. Tawdry, childish and shallow
though it may have been, I knew that, with those behinds, those women simply had to be trapeze artists. (I deduced that before I noticed a
battery of trapezes being lowered into place, high in the upper parts of the casino. Every hour or so, they have live circus acts above the gaming
tables. These ladies were waiting to go on.)
I had a sudden urge to talk to them. I didn't want to get to know them well or even for more than a few minutes. But they looked so
pretty and I felt so lonely that...well, I just wanted to make some quasi-human contact. I wandered up and dropped what I have since learned is the
world-class "pick-up" line to use on a trapeze artist. "Excuse me," I said. "Do any of you know Bob Yerkes?"
They all reacted with glee; I couldn't have dropped a better name.
(Bob Yerkes is the reigning God of the trapeze world. He is an acrobat-turned-trainer and there are few trapeze artists in the world
who haven't studied with him. I met the gent when he helped with some stunts on a show I wrote. We spent a whopping three minutes in conversation and
I wouldn't recognize him today if he did a triple-somersault into my Rice Krispies. But I suddenly decided we were old buddies, the better to meet
the ladies with the great backsides.)
"You know Bob?" cooed one of them. I will call these ladies Patty, Maxine and LaVerne.
"Well, we worked together on a show once," I answered.
"Really? Are you a trapeze performer?" asked Maxine. Maxine was obviously approaching total blindness since I resemble an acrobat about
as much as I resemble a grilled cheese sandwich.
"No, I'm a TV writer," I said. They asked what shows I'd written (people always ask what shows you've written when you say you're a TV
writer) and we were suddenly engaged in conversation.
I guess we were talking for five or six minutes — about their work, about my work. Then the house organist suddenly hit a
show-bizzy music sting that screamed out, "It's showtime, folks!"
"We're on," Maxine announced...and we said our good-byes and they ran off and began scaling this flimsy, rickety ladder. It looked like
it had been constructed by wedging the end of one drinking straw into another and so forth. And they climbed it way, way up to a platform high above
us as thousands gathered on the walkways and tiers of Circus Circus to watch. There is not enough money in the world to get me up on a ladder like
that, let alone to attempt any of the feats certain to follow.
As I stood there, watching my new pals ascending to a dire height, I suddenly remembered a joke.
There's this amusement park, see? And outside a tent, there's a sign that says, "See the High Dive — $2.00!" So a whole buncha
folks pay the money and go inside...and there, they see the highest ladder they've ever seen...stretching way, way up to a teensy diving platform.
And at the base of the ladder, waiting to be dived-into, is a tiny pool of water about three inches deep. "This is going to be incredible," everyone
Then there's a drum roll and out comes an elderly man...someone's great-grandfather clad in baggy, ill-fitting tights. The audience
gasps as this feeble gentleman shuffles over to the base of the ladder and puts his foot on the first rung.
Then he stops and turns to the audience. In a low, weak voice, he mutters, "Isn't this pathetic?"
"I'm ninety years old," he says. "I'll probably break every bone in my body doing this...I'll probably kill myself. What a horrible way
to have to make a living. But I have to do it..."
He starts to climb but someone in the audience yells, "Don't dive!" Then others start chiming in, yelling, "Don't do it, old man!"
He stops climbing and turns to them again. "I wish I could do that," he says. "But then you people will all ask for your money back and
I won't get paid and I won't be able to afford food or rent or my medicine or —"
Another audience member yells, "We won't ask for our money back!" And everyone roars in agreement. "We won't demand refunds...just
The old man turns away from the ladder, tears filling his eyes. "You won't? Oh, this is so wonderful. You've not only saved my
life...you've restored my faith in humanity. You're good people...good, compassionate, caring people. God bless you all," he says. "My next show is
Standing there, watching the three ladies with the great heinies climbing those rickety rungs, I suddenly flashed on that joke. I had a
sudden yearning to run around to the hundreds of people gathered about, urging, "We don't want to see them do this, do we?"
But I didn't. I kept my silence as I watched Patty, Maxine and LaVerne ascend to a tiny platform, high in the rafters of Circus Circus.
There was a net far below them...but it was so small and so frail that it didn't look to provide much safety. If one of them fell, it was doubtful
they would hit it at all, doubtful it would save them if they did.
Looking at them up there — and they were way up there — I suddenly had a horrible premonition.
I have never believed in a sixth sense (three of my normal five are often dysfunctional) but in that casino at that very moment, I
knew. I just knew. One of them was about to plunge to her death.
And still I did nothing. I didn't know what I could do.
The show began. A muscular gent — their catcher — was swinging by his knees on a trapeze from the opposite side of the
arena. Patty swung out on one from her side and he caught her by the ankles. Then Maxine swung out and the catcher grabbed her by the ankles as Patty
swung back on the trapeze on which Maxine had arrived. Then LaVerne was swinging back and forth and forth and back and...
Well, you've seen this before. They were very good, very graceful at it all. "Why not?" I thought. "They've probably done this
thousands of times." And I started to feel a little silly about my premonition. I was just starting to feel comfortable enough to enjoy the show
— when something went terribly, terribly wrong.
Patty swung towards the trapeze on which the catcher was swinging and she grabbed at the bar and missed. Her fingers grasped at it and
she tumbled forward, clearly out of control, starting to plunge towards the ground far below, not even remotely in the direction of that stamp-sized,
Hundreds gasped on the inhale. Not one breath was expelled as, in a flash-second, we all realized: We were about to see a young
woman fall to her death!
In the casino around and below, dealers stopped dealing, shills stopped shilling. People even looked away from the Video Poker machines
and there was a deafening silence. Necks craned and everyone instantly knew that Patty — lovely Patty — was doomed.
But then, out of nowhere, came LaVerne. She'd been swinging out to grab onto the next trapeze. Suddenly, she course-corrected, spinning
about, holding on with one hand as she thrust out the other towards Patty...a noble try but too distant, too late.
Still, in slow motion, we all saw Patty defying all laws of gravity, seemingly suspended in space for an instant. It was but a
thousandth of a second but it was long enough for LaVerne to swing in closer. Her hand reached out to Patty and just barely touched her fingers. So
close but not close enough.
But then, suddenly, impossibly, LaVerne had her by the wrist! And with a massive display of immediate strength, she yanked Patty out of
her deathfall and jerked her whole body towards the trapeze. In the same micro-second, LaVerne slid her other hand down the bar to clear room for
Patty. Patty clutched at the life-saving trapeze and pulled herself to safety. The two women swung to the opposite platform where both dismounted and
Patty gasped for air and hugged the friend who had saved her life.
The place erupted.
There was a mass exhale and a huge cheer. The organist pounded out a peppy musical celebration as the ladies embraced and we all
clapped our hands off. Patty made a little gesture towards LaVerne to show that all that applause should rightly be directed to her. And, of course,
she deserved every bit of it and more. Then Patty received her own ovation as she proved herself a trooper and mounted a trapeze again to finish the
A few more feats followed but we were all still recovering from the near-miss. I was shaking my head, recalling my intuition, thinking,
"I knew something was going to happen...I knew it..."
Patty, Maxine and LaVerne finished their show to a rousing ovation, took several well-deserved bows and then slid down a rope to the
ground. They headed my way, talking among themselves, and I started to say something about the close-call. "Boy, when you missed that bar, I thought
Patty was herself in the middle of sentence, scolding her rescuer: "— so phony. You could have waited another whole second before
"Look," LaVerne responded. "You don't like the way I do it, let's go back to me missing and you saving me."
"I think it was better when I did the miss," Maxine interjected. Then she turned to me: "You were down here watching. Did anyone buy
that she'd really missed the bar?"
I stammered out, "Oh, I think some folks were fooled." Then I noticed the catcher; he had finished helping the crew tie up the trapezes
to get them out of the way. Instead of sliding down the rope, he just jumped...from the top of the arena, down into that tiny net...then he flipped
effortlessly over to the floor and headed for the dressing room. I realized that, if Patty hadn't been "saved," she would have landed just as safely
in that net. These women were never in as much danger as I'd thought.
"Don't you think she could have waited a second longer?" Patty was asking me.
"Oh," I said, trying to act wise enough in the ways of show biz that they hadn't fooled me for a second, "I suppose so...but it
probably fooled most folks, the way you did it."
As I wandered out of Circus Circus, I didn't feel quite so alone anymore — I just felt stupid. That's an awful feeling, of
course...but it's a whole lot better than being alone. Almost anything is.