When I was a little girl, I secretly liked to scrape my arms and knees. I loved the sting from the rubbing alcohol on my skin and the relief from my mom’s breath as she blew on it to reduce the discomfort. But what I loved the most was seeing the blood form into a thick scab. When it was just right, I’d start working on it; slowly peeling it away from my skin. I loved that pain. Feeling bad has always felt so good to me.
I haven’t felt this bad since the 2004 Presidential Election. I cried for a week after that Black Tuesday. My hope for a better world rested on the potential goodness of people and on the belief that common sense would eventually triumph over Reality-TV induced apathy. That hope was gone for those seven days, when it was clear that there was something seriously wrong with this country and it wasn't going to be easily fixed by one election. The only thing that was left was the knowledge that there were others like me, feeling the same, and not entirely alone or blameless. Nine days later and bombs falling on Fallujah, I found myself in the back of a limousine suffering from a cold and downing Dayquil gel caps with cheap Shiraz and fruity “champagne.”
That particular outing to Pala was a result of a failed expedition, two to be exact, to see the Chippendale's dancers while at a bachelorette party in Las Vegas. We stuffed ourselves into an SUV and sang Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” during the whole drive to Las Vegas from San Diego. By the time we arrived, I was so exhausted from going crazy and forcing myself to have a great time, that all I wanted to do was take a nap. When we woke up, we realized we only had 45 minutes to get ready and to get to the Chippendale’s show on time. We decided not to scramble and catch the show on the following night. We headed for the buffet instead. The next evening, cleavage and left-over craziness on hand, we climbed into a taxi and proceeded to make the pilgrimage along the strip to the show. Everything was going great, until something went terribly wrong. The cab broke down smack in the middle of the strip.
This time we were determined and finally on our way, four hours ahead of time, to see oily, “hot” men in thongs. Anyone knows that heightened expectations only lead to disappointment, but we were having a grand time with just enough craziness as to not run out of it before the evening was over. We packed plenty of booze and snacks, even a cheese platter, but no music CDs. I was annoyed that I was forced to listen to top 40 pop stations and I had to remind myself not to be such a fucking snob and to have a good time and to put on a good face, even though I felt like shit and was on the verge of car sickness. But, gawd, how many times can they play that same Beyonce song?
The drive was not that long even with 5:00 p.m. traffic, so we really had no time to get drunk or even a tiny bit buzzed. We ate plenty of cheese though. The limo pulled in the driveway of the casino as we gulped our last glass of “champagne.” The Pala casino was no Vegas. The decor wasn’t even tacky enough to be ironic and amusing. It felt corporate and drab even with orange as the dominating color. The carpets, upholstery, and the patron’s outfits created a suffocating atmosphere and I choked on its 70s polyester effect. I felt like an alien in Planet Tacky populated with Filipino senior citizens at the slot machines.
Three girls left to stand in line to secure seats with a good view of bulge, and the rest of us headed to the bar. The large main bar was crowded with wide-eyed Marines in their dress blue uniforms and their dates in formal evening dresses. Two girls took charge and ordered drinks for everybody, passing them back and above the bar patrons’ heads and to their respective owners. I reached for my Salty Dog and wondered what the Marines were celebrating. I looked around and examined the faces of the young soldiers. Not one looked older than 21. Some barely looked 18. My friend Susana, who was only 27, leaned over to me and said, “Oh my God, I feel like an old hag!” I scrutinized the faces of the Marines and felt extreme sadness overcome me. The guys looked so proud wearing their uniforms and their dates in bright colored synthetic taffeta dresses as arm candy.
“How much do you think the dresses cost?” my sister asked me. “Twenty-five bucks, full price. Probably from Wet Seal or Charlotte Russe,” I replied. My sister cracked up and passed on my comment to the rest of the group. My response was typical of me; normal for a born snob. It came naturally to me and I seldom felt bad about my blatant snobbery. It was my nature and I never gave it any thought. However, at that moment, I became self-aware and regretted my remark as soon as I finished saying the words. It was a sensation I was not used to. Tomorrow, these boys would be leaving for Iraq to get killed and I was making fun of their dates’ cheap dresses.
The group split up; some went gambling and the others went to check up on the girls waiting in line. The line was not very long and our group was second: behind us, two leather-faced 50-year old women in revealing tops and Spandex pants; in front, four chunky, young Latina girls in two-sizes-too-small skimpy outfits. I became self-conscious and wondered how I came to be trapped between wrinkled cleavage on one side, and bulging fat on the other; between pathetic self-delusion or just plain blindness. I looked at my sister and we exchanged an all-knowing, contemptuous gaze. I went to the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror and scrutinized myself, trying to find any resemblance or similarity to the women standing in line. I was a clothes horse, but not a fashion victim. I had learned my fashion lessons in my twenties after succumbing to blue eye shadow and the trends of the day and I had developed a style all my own. The fashion magazines called it “boho chic.” I was still somewhat vulnerable to trends, but knew what was best for me and my shape. I concluded that I had nothing in common with those women, except that we were there to see semi-naked Australian men dance around on stage.
I’m not sure if they were really Australian, but you’ve seen one Thunder from Down Under or Chippendales, you’ve seen them all. All the women went crazy, except for our group. We looked at each other, disappointed, and frowned. It was as if we suddenly realized it was stupid to see hot men in blue collar worker costumes slinging their dingles in front of screaming women and embarrassed to be among that crowd.
After the show, I went back to the bar where the Marines and their dates were hanging out. I just sat there and watched them, feeling miserable. I scribbled an idea for the screenplay on a cocktail napkin. I directed the scenes in my head. They were going to die for nothing and the people of this country didn’t really care. Those screaming women standing in line to get photos taken with the naked Australians didn’t care. The Thunder from Down Under surely didn’t care.
Those young Marines were my scab for a very long time. And as we now know, things turned out to be worse than expected. Potential goodness and common sense did not prevail.