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Iphigenia Rising

A Little Bit Iphy

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Fear and Loathing, Who?

These are the stories of my teenage years in Las Vegas. My roommate’s reaction to a number of these stories was, “Lexi! Like, Fear and Loathing, who??? These stories! You need to write this shit down.” So…enjoy, bitches.

Christmas in Vegas

The first Christmas that my sister and I lived in Vegas was nothing like I expected it would be. When I first moved out there, I had visions of perfect peace– closure with my mom’s death, happiness to finally be getting to know my father–but that was all grossly ambitious. My father doesn’t celebrate holidays. I should have known better.

Dad decided that he needed to work on Christmas, so at 10am he drove my sister and me to the Fashion Show mall on the strip, handed us each two hundred dollars, and said, “Have fun!” As he drove away from us in the parking garage.

For those of you who haven’t been to Vegas, the Fashion Show mall is huge. It spans basically a whole city block (Whatever you’re thinking of as a city block, expand that by three times and then you’ll have a Vegas City Block), and has almost every store you can think of.

We were happy enough to go shopping. I mean, getting to pick out our own presents meant that we would only get stuff that we really wanted. In later years, when I was living with guardian families, I constantly got presents that I had no use for. One such relic that still lives in my closet is this hideous magenta rain coat that a guardian’s family thought would be great for me. I don’t know why they thought red hair and pink coat would be a good combo, but they did. I haven’t replaced it because I’m cheap as hell. So in my closet it stays.

The problem with this first Christmas was that we were left at the mall for my dad’s entire work day. Eight hours with no escape. After about the first three hours of shopping, we got cranky. And bored. And bought shit just to buy shit. It was weird. I remember us having to drag each other to the food court (located all the way on one side of the mall) for sustenance. As we sat and ate we really didn’t know what else to do. We bought everything we wanted, but it didn’t really feel rewarding? Like Christmas? Where was the wrapping paper? The cheesy cards?

I think even then, as teenagers, we knew that the stuff and the money spent on the stuff wasn’t the point. Thank goodness I had my sister with me. The only thing worse than being dropped off on the strip together would have been getting dropped off there alone.

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Dog Story

This story is my sister’s. It happened after I moved out of my dad’s house.

My stepmother had these three dogs. Indica, Sativa, and Manchita. (Yes, you read that correctly.) My dad didn’t like the dogs, so they weren’t allowed inside the house. They had an air conditioned (I think) shed in the backyard and they generally seemed unhappy. They desperately wanted attention and were covered in flies. All of them knew how to swim in the pool because it was the main way they were able to cool off in the Vegas heat. 

One day my dad and my sister found Sativa drowned in the pool. “She knew how to swim,” my sister told me. “I think she chose not to.” After years of 120 degree weather, flies, and not enough love, I think I would have chose not to swim too. 

So they found her there. My dad fished her out and then he had my sister help carry the body to the car. Dad told my sister to get in the car.  They went out into the desert and he buried the dog while my sister sat shot gun and waited. It took him two long hours. I’m sure the drive back was filled with excruciating silence, my father’s smooth driving ability unable to make up for the shock of the situation. No matter how far you drive in the desert you feel like you haven’t moved at all. 

I’m not sure what happened to the other two dogs. 

Iphy Had a Little Lamb

When I lived with my father in Vegas, I spent most days that I wasn’t at school or at the dance studio in his machine shop. My stepmother hated having my sister or me home, so we’d get up early and go to the shop with dad. We were bored out of our minds most of the time, nothing  to do but read or go outside to take a phone call away from the noise of machinery.

My father always liked numbers more than people. Numbers always make sense, there’s a fixed set of rules, laws of mathematics. People have no rules and can be quite cruel. Dad came to America in the sixties to flee Castro and spoke not a word of English. A small, red headed boy who only spoke Spanish in Brooklyn was bound to experience cruelty. Mechanical engineering was a fitting career choice for him.

So we’d all sit about the shop, dad working with lathes and die cutting tools, my sister and I reading, texting, or staring at goddamn walls. I think we were all usually urging  time to go by as fast as possible to get to the next landmark of our day: lunch.

Every so often, dad’s best friend would join us for lunch. Rob was a weird guy, but then again, my father was only ever friends with the oddest characters. Rob was a skinny white dude of average height. He was a ginger like us and was pale as ever. He always wore plain t-shirts and jeans. I found out much later that both my sister and I suspected he was addicted to some kind of drugs. He always seemed like a tweaker. I’m not sure if dad knew about anything we didn’t, or whether he just ignored the circumstance, but either way, we would pick this guy up for lunch on a regular basis.

We’d drive around deep in the heart of downtown Vegas, on the east side of the strip, and somehow or another we would happen upon the building that Rob called home. It still looked like a sketchy motel. It still may have been. There was no signage. Rob would hop into dad’s Lexus SUV and we’d all talk…sort of. Dad and Rob studied martial arts together. Rob would always talk about whether he was going to move back to Virginia or not. He’d laugh awkwardly and try to ask my sister and me questions about our lives. There was lots of silence that was only ended by our pulling into the parking lot of the Indian buffet.

By this time, I was usually starving and ready to cut any form of small talk by shoving lots of Indian food in my face. Each of us would stand in line, picking out what we want from Ghandi’s Buffet and then take our spoils back to a dimly lit booth. I would always avoid dishes with lamb in them because I don’t like eating baby animal. Rob would tease me and sing, “Iphy had a little lamb.” While we ate. I would grimace at my chicken and rice. No, I do not have a little lamb. I don’t want one at all. My appetite would fade, but I’d eat anyway.

Lunch got slightly less awkward after Rob finally did move back to Virginia some six or eight months later. Then we only had to contend with dad teaching us algebra during lunch. He’d grab a napkin and a pen and start in on advanced equations of any variety. I guess that counts as an improvement to being serenaded by my dad’s best friend about lamb.

A Tale of Two Catcalls

Here are the two most memorable catcalls that I received while living in Vegas:

  1. Let’s start with the funny one. I was in the process of busing to the ballroom studio and was making my transfer from my southbound bus to my westbound one. It was a hot summer afternoon and I was daydreaming my way through my commute. I was crossing the street at Rainbow and Flamingo, completely lost in my own world. There was a guy crossing the street in the opposite direction and just as he was passing me, I realized that he had been trying to talk to me as we crossed paths. He realized that I wasn’t listening at the same moment that I did and he turned around and called after me, “Hey yo, Strawberry Shortcake!!!!” I stopped in the middle of the intersection in disbelief and laughed my way to my next bus stop.
  2. The creepiest encounter that I’ve ever had on public transit has to be this one. I was riding the Decatur bus. Background: The Decatur bus was one of the sketchiest. I never, ever took it unless I really needed to and even then I was glad to have pepper spray on me. Unfortunately, in order to graduate high school I had to take this really dumb online health class, but I had to go into a testing center three times throughout the course to take exams. And that testing center was on Decatur…hooray…. On the way back home from one of these testing days, I was sitting on the bus, not doing anything fancy. I had a giant hoodie on, sweatpants, not a trace of make up, and my high school health textbook visibly sitting on my lap. (I know none of this matters, because it doesn’t matter what I was wearing, I shouldn’t be harassed at all, but I think knowing how plain I looked makes this guy look extra stupid). I’m looking out the window, when out of my peripheral vision, I see a guy walk up to where I’m sitting and he says something. Again, I’m in my own world which means I don’t hear shit until I realize that what he said was, “Do you like my tattoo?” I look up at his face and he’s drawing his tongue up under his upper lip, licking across his top front teeth. On his upper lip, where a mustache would be, he has the word PUSSY tattooed in big Gothic print. After a moment of shock, all I could say was, “No.” He left me alone on the bus, but proceeded to transfer to my next bus with me and at that point I was terrified as shit. When he got off at the same stop where I did, close to my house, I ducked into a Starbucks and waited for someone to come pick me up. The next week, my now-ex-fiance bought me my first Swiss Army knife. Not sure how great of a solution that was in retrospect.

 

A Perfume Kiosk in Caesar’s Palace

My second job in Vegas was at a perfume kiosk in Caesar’s Palace. My first job had been at Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery, and my stint there only lasted for a month. I was sixteen and the only thing I remember clearly about the bagel joint was that, one day I was leaning on the counter, propping myself up on my elbows, with my hip popped and my manager turned around and said, “Lexi, please don’t stand like that.” The perfume kiosk was far more interesting than bagels and they didn’t care how I stood.

The kiosk was by far the sketchiest place that I have ever worked. It was a part of a little franchise owned by a pretty blonde woman who seemed to disappear after she hired me, and her Hungarian husband, who managed the Caesar’s Palace location. The job was commission only and there were three stores (read: two kiosks and one actual shop front)– Caesar’s Palace, Circus Circus, and Flamingo. Flamingo had the store front and that is where I finally made my first sale. God, I will never forget standing in high heels on marbel flooring for that long.

But anyway, Caesar’s was where I normally worked. The kiosk was located on the third floor of the Caesar’s palace shopping mall, right out side of Anthropologie and twenty feet away from the escalator that led to the third floor. The woman who worked the kiosk would position themselves between our little perfume island and the escalator and take turns reciting the same line to whoever would make eye contact: “Would you like to try some perfume?”

It should be noted that I was the only person without a Hungarian accent who worked at the stand, so by the end of my shifts, I would go home speaking as though I had one.

I remember my first day at Caesar’s really well. The shift was long and it was a Friday. I was to work from 4pm to 12am, and then Hungarian Dude Boss would drive me home. (Yes, you read that correctly. I always got rides from Hungarian Dude if I got off work late. It was either that or take the Flamingo Road bus at midnight and that was a far worse idea than some weird dude’s Lexus). I think I may have sold one set of perfume on that shift, meaning my dinner from the Planet Hollywood restaurant on the first floor cost me more than I made that day. I took my pasta bolognese dinner break on one of the stone Roman-esque benches and watched tourists go by in packs.

The women I worked with were quick to teach me the rules of working at the kiosk. If you ask a person to try the perfume and they refuse, that’s your turn. Everyone else has to ask someone before your turn comes around again. You have to take turns in the order that you are standing and you can’t change the order. You can sit down near the kiosk basically whenever you want, but you can’t ask people to try anything if you are sitting. It never seemed like any of us really made any money. We all sat a lot.

After a bout six weeks of this, I quit, without another job lined up, which made my dad pretty cranky. My stepmother really wanted me to be working. But the week after I quit I got offered a receptionist gig at the ballroom studio I trained at. My dad wasn’t paying my tuition, so the owner said I could work off my balance. That sounded great compared to an endless round of, “Would you like to try some perfume?”

 

 

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