It had been a late night phone call that had woken me up from a cannabis and Trazodone assisted slumber. I was having trouble sleeping ever since Jenny had left me and died from cancer; I felt the problem was caused mainly by the fact that I had been inflicted with a bad case of Tinnitus the day she had passed on.
The phone call had come from a friend of mine named Jetty Jones. (His real name was Jerry, but he had married a Vietnamese girl who pronounced it Jetty so it stuck.) He informed me that he had seen something real strange in the tiny Curly Headed Girl casino a shot drive from the outskirts of Tonopah, Nevada. He wouldn't explain much past that, but he claimed I had to see this for myself. He wouldn't hang-up either till I promised that I would mosey up that way and check it out.
Jetty was my best friend growing up. Him and I had taken a shit load of acid trips together when we were doing that kind of thing. He still existed in a halfway world somewhere between the material and the mist, but even so he often came up with much more interesting perspectives than any of my journalist friends. In fact, I had won the prestigious Beamess Award for Journalism because of an idea he had triggered during an hashish inspired discussion on the meaning of the gorgon Medusa.
"Why did you call me? Frankie's in Reno. Call his ass!"
"Fuck that, Danny! He's a teacher; you the journalist and the writer. You look into it, write it up, then Frankie can read it and teach it."
"I'll come because you ain't never let me down, Jetty. But just know that one of these days I'm going call your ass up at 3:30 in the morning and wake you up."
He laughed, "Good luck with that. I don't sleep much nowadays."
I laughed back, "You ever try Trazodone?"
"I was the one who told you."
So, I got up, took a shower, brushed my teeth, made a cup of coffee, packed my notebook and a change of underwear, jumped on my Harley and waved goodbye to San Diego.
Eight hours later, I walked into the scratched and battered red doors of the Curly Headed Girl casino. I do have a little bit of a hard time referring to the place as a casino proper. It looked more like huge, garish Denny's that had been decorated by a Satan worshipping meth addict in the last throes of his addiction. The walls were painted neon green and the carpets were bright red and threadbare. There was lots and lots of neon everywhere, and signage with some of the letters missing. For example, the neon sign over the slots area only said LOTS, and someone had added a cardboard sign to the end of the neon POKER sign that said ;I DID!
I stood there in front of the sign and thought for a moment what it might mean that whoever had put the sign there knew to add the semi-colon. In my way of a thinking, it made the situation somewhat mythical, God's hand so to speak. I don't why it surprised me so much; as I knew that everything that Jetty was involved in boasted signs that life itself was an endless display of such "divine configurations."
I walked the place around slowly taking everything in. It was a strange place to say the least. I knew because of the way that Jetty had spoken that I would know what I was looking for the moment I saw it. Yet, there were a lot of contestants competing for my attention, an awful lot, more than enough to have frustrated a normal reporter.
For example, there was a couple of octogenarian looking hookers strutting their stuff wearing almost next to nothing while carrying cardboard signs that claimed that for $20 they would fulfill your darkest fantasy and then donate the money to a fund that would clean the ocean of plastic.
There was also a homeless guy riding an electric wheelchair up and down the slot aisles looking for change in the slot machines. I couldn't muster the will to tell him that none the slots operated off of change and hadn't for the last twenty-five years. I probably would have told him though if it hadn't been for the cocky looking rooster that was sitting on his lap.
I'm deathly afraid of roosters and have been ever since my dad's pet rooster Jack Dempsey sneak attacked me while I was taking a leak out behind our barn. Me and Jack Dempsey engaged in all out war for years up until the time that my little brother Scotty matched him up with the neighborhood's version of Gene Tunney.
My dad came home from work and found Jack Dempsey lying dead in the middle of the barn floor.
"Wha happen here?"
Scotty sheepishly offered, "Looks like the trepidations of Old Age finally caught up with the toughest critter I ever knowed."
Dad stood there in his dirty overalls, looked at Scotty for a minute than down at the corpse, "Second toughest. That rooster's bleeding prolifically from at least four holes. Far as I knowed, Old Age will choke the living shit right out ya, never knowed it to poke no holes in a creature, be it beast or man."
I heard a commotion and headed toward it. I had to wiggle through a small crowd of people gathered around a single Texas Hold'em Table. I might be a little generous on labeling them all as people. Steven Spielberg must have gambled here before he came up the idea for the barroom scene in the original Star Wars movie.
There were more large badly placed birthmarks, outsized warts, pronounced scarring, jagged teeth, broken bones, pus producing wounds, and foul body odor in that one place than anywhere else in the world, and probably the universe.
And right there in the middle of all these miscreant looking, subterranean beings sat none other than Gandalf the fucking wizard his own damn self. I could tell it was him because he was wearing the iconic hat and a tall staff made of dark oak was leaning up against the wall behind him. He was drawing on a long stemmed wooden pipe and blowing colored smoke rings out. The rings would hover above the table for a moment and then disappear with a pop.
All of the commotion was because the wizard had caught a three of clubs on his final card giving him a full house of twos and threes to beat out his opponent's three aces. He raked in the pot of strange looking silver coins. When I got there, he put the coins into a large brown cloth bag tied at the top with a small rope, looked up at me like he was expecting me, and said, "There you are! I've been waiting since I saw Jetty last night."
We found ourselves seats in a darkened corner of Euryale's Bar near the western wall of the place. The table was lit by a single candle, and it was so dark that I could barely make out the wall painting of a setting sun hidden in the shadows. I ordered up a bottle of Glenlivet.
"Well, what brings you here, my son?"
I couldn't hide my shock. "What brings me! You're fucking Gandalf the Wizard. What the hell you doing in this hell hole of a casino? You were a character created by Tolkien not Dante Alighieri remember."
He gave me that hmph voice, "Created by Tolkien? Tolkien did the revealing not the creating, and this, "He spread his arms and looked around at the casino, "this is your world not mine."
After he calmed down a bit, he explained, "Everytime that someone reads entire Lord of the Rings cycle without putting it down, I check out for minute. It always happens during the scene when I battled the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazam-dum. I disappear for while and only return when I'm needed at the end.
"You're gone and Frodo has to take the lead?"
"Oh please, that fool couldn't find his way out of the cookie aisle at a grocery store! He's only placed in that position to create dramatic tension."
"But he defeats the Dragon!"
He arched a long bushy eyebrow in my direction," Did you even read the fucking story! Bard defeats the dragon, it's a mythical revelation, an ancient story written in stone in the construction of the small air channels of the Great Pyramid? Frodo is the stumbler, didn't you notice that he accidentally stumbles upon everything? Just like his uncle stumbled upon the magic ring. Behind the scenes, all us literary characters have an over/under bet on how long it will take for him to do his job."
"But it's in the book. Doesn't it stay the same?"
He put down his pipe and looked at me sadly, "It's different for everybody."
"How long must you stay here for?"
"I have to wait."
"For as long as it takes for two things to happen."
"What two things?"
"It's like a video game. Every time Frodo levels up, I have to gain a level too. In my case, I have to wait until that guy over there," he points to large, bald, one-eyed man with two missing teeth. "That's Hero, my mentor; I have to wait till he goes up a level."
"I have to wait until he convinces Helen, the highest priced hooker in Nevada to sleep with him for free." He pointed towards a window hidden high in the wall over the bar. At that very moment, a woman, no make that a goddess, walked over to the window and looked out. Everything stopped for a minute as her beauty lit up the entire room exposing the dust in the corners and spider webs in the rafters.
She turned and looked at me, and that single look aroused such passion in me that I almost embarrassed myself in front of Gandalf. "She's so freaking beautiful! What's she doing here?"
The wizard chuckled, "Well, you don't change history being just pretty."
"Yeah. We all have our own purgatory. Hers is here, just like mine and his." We looked over to where the mentor sat making obscene gestures up toward the window.
"What are his chances?"
"Well you would think much of them just by looking at him, but he's got a good heart, one of the best, and on the last level that fool banged half of Hollywood, and on his first level he had to sleep with Cleopatra with Caesar in the same room, so it might take awhile, but he's like that Bill Murray character in the movie Groundhog Day; he'll get there in time.
"You mentioned you had two tasks. What's the second."
The question caused him to laugh, and then he poured us both another shot of Scotch, "Oh that, I had to go all in in a poker game against Judas Iscariot over there to see who gets back to their story first.
I dropped the glass on the floor. Some of the Scotch splattered onto the hem of Gandalf's garment. "Wha..."
"You think that's bad. It was stipulated that I had to win on the river card."