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**PRINT: MIXTAPE: THE2NDHAND’s 29th issue builds on a concept we introduced to the Chicago reading/performance scene in July 2007 -- the Mixtape reading, wherein several writers cast short-short stories inspired by pop songs. The concept evolved after several incarnations of its live component to include a published series here at the2ndhand.com and, now, a broadsheet. This latest includes 2008 Birmingham Artwalk contest winners Nadria Tucker and Emily Self, both past contributors to THE2NDHAND and both writing from Birmingham, and a story by Zach Plague, author of the art-school satire/adventure novel Boring boring boring..., out now from Chicago’s Featherproof Books. Tracklist: Leaving Batesville, Night Moves, Carousel...

**WEB: HERMAN Stanley Holditch
MANDY C.L. Bledsoe
WING & FLY: COMMITMENTLESS AGE: a review of Victor Serge's "Unforgiving Years" | Todd Dills

Stanley Holditch

This is the first in a two-part story, to be continued next week. Holditch is a Birmingham, Ala.-based writer and music/indie culture blogger at Fleabomb. He'll likewise be a part of our Mixtape reading/celebration of our 29th issue Sept. 5 at What's on Second during Birmingham's Artwalk 2008 downtown festival.

Herman could feel Vegas forming a film on his shoulder blades. He had been losing badly since the dealers changed but he was determined to last at least until Carlie returned with his Maker's. Thus far the drink had cost him about $1,600. Chow drew to twenty on five showing for the third time in a row and gave Herman the obligatory look of incredulity as he added another $200 to the price of the drink. Herman quickly cast his eyes about for Carlie before plunking down another $200 for Chow to collect. She and his Maker's were nowhere in sight. He wondered if she was waiting until he had given $2,000 to the fat Korean in front of him.

He knew he was more at fault than Chow, because the 50-something matron next to him had practically tripled her chip count since Chow's fat, squinty eyes had come to survey the table. She had the temerity to pat his shoulders, telling him his luck would turn.


Herman hated Vegas, not because of the money he dropped on a daily basis, or the dank, smelly dens of vice that choked him and assaulted his senses, or the general sinking feeling. It was the startlingly accurate portrait of humanity. Not just the sweat-clad housewife to his left, or the greasy-haired Armani-ite to his right, or the fat Korean he kept feeding chips to. It was the mirrors. He hated Vegas for its merciless, unrelenting mirrors. He hated the way they lit up his own garish, neon failures.

Chow had to shuffle after gobbling up Herman's latest contribution to the casino fund, which provided Herman another opportunity to look about for Carlie. He caught a glance of her feeding drinks to the college kids at the fifteen-dollar table. Half-hidden by bottles of cheap beer sat his Maker's and a reprieve from Chow. He could tell that some of the ice had melted by the diluted shade of amber in the glass, which made his desire all the more urgent. Chow was starting his third shuffle.

The college kids were hitting on Carlie, and she was laughing back at them in that nervous but seemingly sincere way that all the cocktail girls master early on. Herman tried to catch her eye and impart the urgency of the situation, but for the moment she was the property of those kids, tethered by the invisible string of their bad jokes and clumsy advances. Carlie was just unattractive enough to not be able to make it as a dancer, but she had a dancer's body, which was practically bursting forth from the tight dresses they make them wear. Her tits looked like they were about to pop. She started to pull away, Herman's Maker's now in clear view on her tray, but one of the boys caught her by her skirt before she could leave, pulling her back for one last lewd suggestion. He yanked her skirt hard enough to rock her backwards just enough to spill a dollop of Herman's drink.

Herman anxiously wondered if she could pull away before he was forced to feed Chow another $200. He saw Carlie's eyes dart toward his table as she attempted to pull away, but the tanned, muscular arm of the frat-guy bending her ear pulled her closer.

"Shut the fuck UP!" Herman said through clenched teeth.


Chow stood before him with a perplexed look on his face, palm upturned in front of Herman's empty bet marker. He soon found that the entire table was focused on him. Armani was still in the middle of his seemingly endless phone call, but took the time to flash an annoyed look in Herman's direction, and the housewife tapped a $100 chip on the felt. Herman sighed and tossed another $200 down the hole.

Chow generously gave Armani a nine and a jack, dealt Herman a six and a seven, and laid a third blackjack on the housewife. Chow drew a three. Herman sighed again.

A trilly "here you go" wafted into his left ear, and a slightly watered-down Maker's was placed in front of him.

"Just in time," said Herman, not hiding his sarcasm.

"Sorry about the ice," said Carlie.

"That's fine," he said, flipping a ten-dollar chip onto her tray as Chow paid the housewife. Whenever the housewife won a hand she would clap in celebration with her fingers splayed outward, in that uniquely feminine and domestic way. Herman hated that.

He stuck on his thirteen and sank a bit, mostly at the shoulders, when Chow revealed a ten under his three. Chow puffed out his lips at the sight of his hand, empathizing with Herman and Armani. His next card, as scripted, was a seven, and Chow shook his head at the sight of it. As he reached across the table for their chips, Herman couldn't help himself.

"How's it feel to be named after dog food, Chow?"

It had been under his breath and aimed at the felt, but it was clearly audible.

Chow looked flustered and said "Sir?" pretending he hadn't heard the remark, but the offense was evident in his forehead. The offense wasn't so much the remark itself, but at having to take it, at Vegas' strict caste structure.

Chow's question hung in the air, but at this point there was nothing to be done. A tip would only make things worse. The housewife and Armani stared at Herman as he pushed back from the table and reached for his drink. He kept his eyes down so he wouldn't have to see Chow's face again.

"You know, you're a real asshole." Apparently the urgent phone call he had to answer was finally over.

Herman burned. The shame of receiving a civility lesson from a greaseball like Armani stung. He hated himself for it. He hated himself for the way he fumbled with the chips in his pocket as he approached the cashier. He hated his faltering voice as they exchanged the prescribed pleasantries. He hated the protruding bones in his wrist. He hated the wispy hairs on his arm. He hated himself for being weak, spiteful and low. And he hated himself for what he would do.

The gambling portion of the evening was over.

The desert air hit Herman's nostrils in a fat rush. It did little to change his mood. The bad taste still resonated on the pulp of his tongue and he was thinking about his parents. His shame was in the wind that cut his silhouette.

Vegas was out and buzzing in its full fury. The bits of passing conversation that floated into Herman's ears:

"Fuck that bitch, I don't need no anger management." "You can call me cheap but this is my gottdamn money." "Well, it sounds weird but I guess I can try it if you really want."

People were tearing each other apart.

Herman toyed with the thought of going to a club, waiting in line, blending, relying on his own mettle for the rest of the night's entertainment. But he knew it was a needless go-between. It would be a delay. He knew how the night would end, and discarded the thought along with the pornographic flier he accepted from one of the Mexicans.

As he was crossing one of the street bridges he came across an Indian sitting with his elbows around his knees. He was wearing a rough light blue overcoat and held his hat out in front of him, slowly turning it in his hands. He wasn't begging. He wore a puzzled expression and was mumbling to himself. His question was quite plain, and universal. "How did I get here? What the fuck happened?"

Herman kept walking, not wanting to infringe on the man's dignity. He cast a backward glance and saw that the Indian's hat was still turning in his hands, his head still down, still mumbling. Herman had $5,000 in his pocket. He wondered how much power he had over that man. What would $1,000 do for him? Would it become drink? More gambling debt? Would he be back on that bridge in a day? An hour? Would he buy a bus ticket? Was there anywhere on earth that he could go back to?

Herman turned his head and walked on.

Herman's parents always masked their contempt for the common man by actively contributing to charities. They stuck to the liberal, eastern-seaboard WASP playbook religiously. They gave to United Way, the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers, local causes, both political parties, AIDS research, Human Rights Watch, and even the Gay and Lesbian alliance, though they hated dykes and privately believed that openly gay men were needlessly rubbing everyone's nose in it. Their portfolio was impeccable. And it saved them millions in taxes.

Once the doors had closed and the needy children had left the front lawn they would tell Herman exactly what they thought. Hate and anger spewed forth from every orifice and rained down on young Herman. After glad-handing the dyke from the GLA they would criticize every aspect of her appearance and laugh about the strength of her grip. And it seemed that Herman was always in the room when this collaborative criticism occurred.

It was a calculated move, intended to transfer what they believed about the world to him, to ingrain their prejudices and hates and loves, to firmly root Herman in their culture and ward off the distant yet frightening possibility that he might wind up as feckless as the people who attended their charity events. He thought of the Indian sitting in his parents' living room, staring up at the molding, antique mirrors, and turning his hat in his hands with a submissive posture. He imagined his parents feigning interest in his tale of woe, his mother's furrowed brow expressing the imaginary connection between them. For a moment, he was a child in that room again: "disgusting" "that smell" "did you see his nails?" "worthless drunk."

As with most in parenting, their actions produced the opposite of the desired result. As Herman grew up, he increasingly identified with people with whom he had the least in common. He made few friends at Middlebury and even fewer at Yale. He avoided the college bars and sought out the townies, most of whom quickly cased that Herman's desire for acceptance, his repentance for his upbringing, could be easily turned into cash. He would often rationalize these "friendships" by saying it was his form of charity, always buying the rounds and making small loans he knew would never be repaid, but eventually the stark reality that he was being taken advantage of could no longer be ignored.

The doorman at the Venetian greeted him warmly and Herman palmed him his usual $20. As Herman passed the doorman leaned in close and asked if he would like the usual arrangements. He paused just a second before nodding his confirmation.

Herman's life in Vegas had become defined by routine: quick jog in the morning, then a quick trip up to the room to check email and take care of any bills or finances, breakfast, then down to the pool for a few pre-noon drinks, lunch at the pool, then up to the spa for a massage. After that, usually a nap through the hottest part of the afternoon, then up around 4 p.m. and at the tables until about 11:00. Herman had no friends. The only person he kept in touch with from his life back east was the lawyer who managed his parents' estate.

By the end of the day Herman needed company, and thus the "usual arrangements." But lately that had become routine as well. He paid the doorman handsomely to make the arrangements and cycle through the different services, but lately he had begun to see repeats, the same girl from a few months before. It's not that Herman minded doing the same girl twice, but once people saw him at his weakest, right after he came, panting with exhaustion, he didn't want them to see him again. He wanted them to simply disappear from the earth -- for them and their intimate knowledge of him to cease to exist. If he, or rather the doorman, were careful, the illusion could be maintained. There were enough whores in Vegas to last a lifetime.

But lately even this portion of Herman's existence had become too routine. The girls' faces had started to blend. He began to need more than just sex. Multiple partners quickly unnerved him because his weakness could now be the subject of conversation. Toys and fetish costumes seemed too contrived. Then he discovered knife play.

For some reason the fact that the knife was just another prop didn't bother him. And it gave him something to shop for during the day if the pool was dead. But the main thing was the illusion of control.

To be continued...