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Lynn Veach Sadler

Miss Spam Maps of Vegas

I was a waitress. Waitressing is honest. I didnít want to work for the "World Famous Mustang Ranch." Didnít want to "pull down" $50,000 yearly for letting men "pull down" on me. Pull me down. Luke was my husband. He should of known that. But Luke kept trying to get me to "use my tips to enlarge my tits." Luke said theyíd hire me for Mustang II and let me "work my way up" to the main house. Luke was crude. Once I found out how crude, I didnít want children either.

I remember the exact moment I knew I was leaving Luke.

Luke stayed out all night drinking and playing keno. Heíd lost his bouncer job. Reno was trying to tone up. Luke, like me, looked cheap but didnít know it. I was working on not looking cheap. I think it has to do with education. Not always. I discovered that Mr. Benny Binion couldnít read or write but was smart enough to go in with Mr. Nick the Greek and let Binionís Horseshoe become the home of the World Series in Poker. Educated people may not be all that smarter, but they look smarter. Or theyíre "over the top" and look like Mr. Einstein. Itís like the difference between Area 51 and Area 58 outside Vegas. All the educated are aliens to the rest of us, but the Mr. Einsteins move into a world of their ownóArea 58. The rest of us go nuts thinking about their possibilities.

But I was telling you about the exact moment I knew I was leaving Luke.

I opened up for Whitey at 5:30 A.M. Luke got home around 4:30. Expected me to make him breakfast. Half a can of fried Spam with four over-easy eggs. Exactly half a can. The least bit of brown on the white, and I had to throw the eggs out and start over. If the yellows didnít "shake like the tits on a real showgirl," I had to throw the eggs out and start over. When I tried out that old joke with albumen as the punch word, he knocked me half way across the room. Luke always does or did everything by halves. Anyhow, after that, we didnít talk at all from the time he got home until I left for Whiteyís. Luke was right about one thing. I was trying hard to get above my raising. Really hard. I read and stayed in the library as much as I could and hid my books from Luke.

The morning I knew it was time to go, Luke was lifting the eggs with his fork, looking all under the lacy "albumen" for brown spots. I just knew the yellow was going to give way and run, which was just as bad as far as having to throw the whole mess out and start over. Anyhow, once Luke was satisfied his eggs were perfect, he stabbed each one to make four yellow rivers. Do you know how that made me feel?

Wonder why there isnít a more sophisticated name for egg yellows than "yolk"? What I was with Luke was "yoked." "Yoked" to Luke the Loser. Why couldnít I run? Iíd thought that question many times before, but that morning there was an answer. Suddenly, the four yellow rivers became a gold strike. It was like the remains of the Comstock lode silver mine Iíve since been to see at Old Nevada and Bonnie Springs Ranch. I had a tin-type made there and pretended I was four golden rivers chasing after and piling right over the top of Luke Fallon.

That morning, over Lukeís shoulder, I focused on the Spam can. I swear it was winking at me. Like Las Vegas neon. I knew better, but I saw the letters on that Las-Vegas-neon Spam can dance backwards. M-A-P-S. Spam was "maps." If Spam could be "maps," I could be out of there.

If Spam-equals-maps wasnít some kind of answer, I made it one. I didnít say a word to Luke. As per usual. I left my clothes, took my secret savings, and worked my shift. When Whitey got in about eleven, I sat down in his booth with him and told him. Iíd been with him over five years, and he wasnít happy, but happy for me. He didnít know Luke personally, but he knew Luke types. He told me I didnít have to ask when I asked him not to tell Luke anything when he came asking.

When I got off, I returned my library books, which I mostly kept at work to keep Luke from destroying them, and went to Las Vegas. I hired a friend of a friend-many-times-removed to drive me in case Luke tried to trace me. "Maps" had glowed like Las Vegas neon. Besides, Luke would think Iíd get as far away as I could. Probably all the way back to Tennessee. He thought I hated Reno, Mustang, Storey County, and all things Nevadan because I didnít want to be an "independent contractor" for the Mustang. Actually, I liked the way it supported people who had trouble finding support, and I admire Mr. Joe Conforte and Commissioner Shirley Colletti.

Vegas had another appeal for me. Iíd read up on it some even before what-Spam-equals and saw it as some kind of, like, poor manís education. I know that sounds stupid, but the Vegas people put all that glitter out there to attract people, and it kind of blinds a lot of us to what else is going on. I donít mean just that it kind of brings the whole world and lays it at your feet. Which it does do. Yes, in a way that may be tacky. But itówell, let me see if I can explain how I feel about it. Since Iíve been in Vegas, Iíve seen Forever Plaid at the Flamingo Hilton, and that group itís about come back from the dead because of this sort of break in the ozone layer. Well, it seems to me thereís an ozone layer separating the educated from the uneducated, but that Vegas is this kind of break in the ozone layer that lets the uneducated, if they want to, get a look at the world of the educated. And I wanted to. Youíll laugh at the kind of examples Iím thinking of, but thatís OK. Once I knew what I was after, nobody could laugh me out of it. Iím thinking of the "Pair-O-Dice" Club. "MADhattan" at New York New York. Mr. Cook E. Jarr performing regularly at the Continental. The whole Holy Cow, where the slots are "Moolah." Even the "Pornocopia of Sex." The Let It Ride High Roller at the Stratosphere, which is the worldís highest roller coaster. The "shoe" equals box in baccarat. EFX at the MGM Grand, which I explained to my followers. Their big production is named that because itís just dazzling with special effects, which EFX is movie industry talk for. Understand, Iíve learned most of this stuff since I left Reno for Vegas. Anyhow, Iím thinking of the "Caviartorium" and "Snackus Maximus" at Caesars Palace. The educated nowadays call it "cheesy" and "kitsch," but it makes a higher world "accessible." No, Vegas isnít just gambling, magic shows, impersonators, rock stars, star stars, stars lending their names to places, comedians, prime rib, shrimp, buffets, and sex. You do know the Flamingo Hilton takes dogs from the pound and trains them to perform? The Rockettes are there, too, and theyíre always referred to as "wholesome." And Vegas single-handedly preserves the history of ventriloquism right back to the Greeks and the Witch of Endor.

Nobody in Vegas liked Showgirls, which made us look like a bunch of lap dancers and lap-dance-fanciers, but I thought when Nomi Malone learned sheíd mispronounced "Versace" was one of the saddest-greatest things imaginable. Iíve thought a lot about that moment. Enough to realize that "lap" is "pal." Vegas is full of Spam-is-maps-type-things. Like, underneath the razzle-dazzle, itís just calling you to words. And words just send you higher or deeper. If you let them. Why, I could be as blind as Luke, I soon discovered. I hated keno because Luke played it. It wasnít until I got to (and into) Vegas that I discovered keno was Chinese, helped pay for the Great Wall, came to us with the Chinese railroad workers, and has yin and yang halves. From there I went on to the Dragon Noodle Co. in the Monte Carlo being designed by Feng Shui principles.

I found out "Pamplemouse" means "grapefruit." Mr. Bobby Darin named that restaurant. Mr. Wayne Newton, among other notables, eats there, and Mr. Darin helped Mr. Newton get started (and Mr. Newton may have helped Luke find me. But all that was to come.)

Whitey called his friend Mr. Cohen here in Vegas about me. At the Center Strip Inn. In exchange for running the graveyard shift, I got a pretty good salary and a room and bath out back. I figured I could either kill the cooking smell or adapt. I did both. I used vanilla like they say the Mirage mixes with the oxygen it blows in to keep the gamblers from feeling tired. The phone was in the restaurantís name. If Luke was looking for me, he wouldnít have an easy time of it.

I picked my new name on the drive from Reno. My friendís friend, the driver, was interested in the radio, so we didnít talk. Besides, Iíve always liked to think over music. The name I picked was "Sal Sagev." As in Spam-equals-maps. Since I didnít want to be too obvious, I was "Sally (ĎSalí) Sagev." I could tell when people tumbled by the happiness in their voiceó"Youíre ĎSalí Sagev in my book, Girl!"ówhich really didnít happen too much until things started at the PO. Eventually, I thought to tell them I would always be a lass at a "Las" for words. I had to spell it for most of them or write it out on their napkins.

I made my way to the main library before I prettied up my new room. I had dreams about getting a degree, at least from a community college, but I was twenty-nine going on thirty. It didnít seem realistic. No, what I wanted was something respectable and upward-looking. I was a good waitress, but I just didnít like the tone of "She gives good service" and its on-the-side smirks. Besides, most customers looked at you funny and sidled away to another waitress if you even hinted you read. I could get away with Mr. Stephen King, especially after his accident, and Mr. Thomas Harris and speculating on whether Sir Hopkins would play Dr. Lecter and Miss Foster Clarice Starling when Hannibal was made into a movie, but I got looked at funny if I forgot and said words like "Miss Jane Austenís Emma." Though heads did turn when I pointed out that Mason placed his call about Dr. Lecterís kidnapping through a "legitimate" Vegas sports book switchboard. I did, when I became known, explain about Dead Poet Books to keep people from confusing it with The Dead Poetsí Society but still didnít tell many I went to the Enigma Cafť and Cafť Espresso Roma, where all the UNLV students hang out, for the poetry readings when I could. I did send people interested in Gothic-Vampire to the Cafť Copioh and The Wet Stop, which also has Vegasís only live reggae.

One of my regulars was a walking postman in those cute shorts. He was recently divorced and on the prowl, but I liked him because he tried too hard to make people like him. He was after everybodyís favorite bubble gum waitress, but she was waiting to become a showgirl and wasnít about to be "roped in." She was close-mouthed about where sheíd run off from but talked about the latest shows and everything going on Downtown and on the Strip, and I appreciated the education. Anyhow, when "Angel" didnít respond, Walt started spending most of his in-restaurant-time talking to me.

Walt gave me the idea of becoming a "Federal employee of the PO," but he didnít like it much when I joked about a "hazard bonus" for all the danger from disgruntled former postal employees. At first, I meant to walk a beat like Walt, though the idea of the shorts bothered me some. After Luke, I didnít want to give the appearance of anything remotely "showgirly." Not that the shorts of the PO werenít perfectly respectable.

Walt wasnít the only thing that settled me on postofficetry. He told me I might not have a chance because I was female but not Black, Hispanic, or Native American. He said he knew the tarot-card reader at The Beach who could probably create some Paiute ancestors for me, but I thought if the PO was all that liberal, it would be liberal to me, too. Besides, if I went that route, I would have been descended from the Anasazi.

To find out about the postal service, I learned to use the computers at the library. When I punched in "post office" on Yahoo and got too much in return, my eye lighted in passing on Miss Eudora Weltyís "Why I Live at the P.O." Not that I would ever be Sister, but the story seemed to be another "map." If you see what I mean. Not that I would ever link Miss Welty and Spam.

I studied hard and passed my test for running the postal machine and all the rest of the tests and was put to work in the back of a branch PO. And sure enough, the POís liberalness was another map. (It is not responsible for all that stuff on the Internet about charging postal rates for e-mail.) My branch didnít have any Hispanics working out front, and the ones in the back couldnít speak English. I donít claim to know Spanish, but Iíd learned some from my customers in Reno and now Vegas. I always try to strike up a meaningful conversation with my clients, so Iíd picked up a tad. I just love it. It purely sings. Even when Hispanics are mad about something, you canít get mad at them because it sounds like theyíre singing to you. And not just huevos rancheros and things like that. Iíd learned about "comal" grills and "caqzuela" ovens at the Coyote Cafť, where I also fell in love with Mr. Kit Carsonís etched glass with the coyote and horse eating at the restaurant and with that "Painted Soup," which seemed to go with "Painted Desert."

Walt knew several people working at my PO, and he told them I knew a lot more Spanish than I did, but I, when approached, did agree to try, and my efforts seemed appreciated. I donít want to be immodest, but people seem to take to me. I mean, I donít think Iím threatening. I never want to be like what I ran away from back home or ran into running away from home. (Meaning Luke). So I try to be pleasant and nice to everybody who passes by.

It all just sort of happened. I went to work out front near Christmas, and people just dragged in like Christmas was an even bigger burden than usual. I kept looking at them until I got to feeling about as low as a junkyard dog locked in a 4 x 4 junkyard. I wasnít going to have it. Iíd gotten maps out of Spam, and I refused to embrace the lowdownís. So, not being very original or anything, I started to sing. I sing sort of like a Fourth Tenor. For a girl, I mean. It was pretty funny. Iíd like to have a beautiful voice like Miss Streisand or Miss Buffy St. Marie, but if what I had lifted people a little bit, that was maps-from-Spam, too. So Iíd sing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer!" or "I want a Hippopotamus For Christmas," but I didnít forget I was there to serve Hispanics and others with similar needs (as I could), so I added to my repertoire. Like "Feliz Navidad" and "Tish Hinojosa." The more people liked it, the more I did it. Which is about par for human psychology. (The class I was taking at the time was Intro to Psychology.)

We had a big sign in the PO promising no more than a three-minute wait, and we made people line up and wait until they were called up to our windows. But the closer we got to Christmas, the more people we had and the longer they had to stand in line. They got crankier, and so did we. When our manager took down the sign, the people in line started snarling. They were ripping a roar in short order. I finished my customer and, without thinking, called out: "Next, please, but only nice people. Un-nice people, go on to someone else." And suddenly, I wasnít just the "Singing Lady at the PO" but a Vegas phenomenon. A small one anyhow. People tried to change places in line to come to my window. If I didnít offer them some snatch of song or some smartlip tidbit, theyíd ask me a question. I was getting worried I wouldnít have the answer. For the most part, they werenít wanting another Miss Landers or her sister or Dr. Ruth or Miss Oprah. They just wanted somebody to tell them something straight and simple. Like about the bear claws at Benningerís. Krispy Kreme Donuts (the only ones west of the Mississippi). Mrs. Zelma Wynnís bread pudding on the Golden Nugget Buffet. That we should never forget that Mr. Chin, of Chinís, created Strawberry Chicken, no matter who claimed it. That the Lady Luck Casino Hotel has a multilingual front desk. That was the one thing I could be, I thought. Straight and simple. But I worked hard at it. And as we went along, others helped me. How else would I know to pass along as the restaurants for locals the Sand Dollar Blues Lounge, Shalimar, Totoís, Viva Mercados (even if does use canola), Liberty Cafť at the Blue Castle Pharmacy, the Algiers Restaurant and Lounge, the Steak House in Circus Circus and so on before they were voted favorites in the Las Vegas Review? Walt the Walking Postman told me, for example, that you could get an instant urinalysis from the urinals in the Hilton. The dealers, floor girls, restaurant workers, people connected with the shows, etc. who became friends with me and Walt passed on things the regular tourist writer-uppers didnít know or care about. Like The Sahara was the only Strip casino where you could play pan. Like The Riviera was one of the few casinos that offered sic bo. People knew I was into Chinese.

Nevada was my adopted state, and I knew just about nothing about Las Vegas until I studied up on it. But I soon found out the locals didnít either. I guess they felt like Sin City belonged to the tourists and they baby-sat it. Which, if you think about it, is a bad way to be about where youíre supposed to be rooted.

That was one reason I kept on at the restaurant. Good waitresses are the closest humans to fish. They have these sort of banks of fish gills, and information is constantly being taken in through them and being let back out. If you listen, and good waitresses listen, you hear more than a little. All these people who come in together over and over are fish schools, and they introduce you to whatís going on in their territory. Then all these random strangers come swimming through Las Vegas from places all over the world, and you listen to whatís going on in their fish schools, too. Well, you have to develop a sense of what to keep or throw back, what to let through your net. I wasnít setting myself up as any kind of Great Queen Neptune. I just happened to be where people talk and the kind of person people talk to or donít mind talking in front of.

And then there I was at the PO. Itís like the information center. Or used to be before the Web. But a lot of people, like the regular citizens of Vegas, werenít into computers. And there I was. Another version of Spam-into-maps. It fell to me to reconcile the locals to the so-called "hyperreal" world the tourists took for granted. If youíre New York, Rome, Egypt, Italy, Venice, Monte Carlo, Burma, Mandalay, San Francisco, New Orleans, a volcano, water and fire shows, a rain forest, Treasure Island, Camelot, a circus, and on and on, how can you be Vegas? Or, what is Vegas? If youíve come from "Gass" Ranch and youíre noise, neon, Glitter Gulch, Sin with a capital letter, The Atom Bomb, Gangsters, Movie Stars, Boulder Dam that gets renamed Hoover Dam and then back-names some more, your destiny is linked with the rise and fall and mostly rise of gambling, and youíre the Eighth Wonder of the World, what is Vegas? If youíre the only city in the United States and probably the world that has to publish the phone book twice a year, what is Vegas? If youíre named "The Meadows" and youíre concrete, strip, Strip, and stripping and your fake Manhattan skyline and New York casino are worse because theyíre made out of that Dryvit thatís driving people crazy, what is Vegas?

So, I kept boning up. And trying to share. I grew into a sort of poor personís version of Mr. Anthony Curtis, the great guru of gambling who writes the monthly newsletter called the Las Vegas Advisor. Not that Mr. Curtis doesnít tell you about bargains in food and shows and such, but heís still mostly for the tourist set. The ordinary people seemed to like me. Not the PO big wigs, of course. They wanted to shut me up as an embarrassment. People wouldnít have it. Eventually, I was rotated to the Big Timeóthe PO behind the Stardust Hotel at 3100 Industrial Road. Caesars Palace keeps trying to get me moved to the one in their Forum Shops, but UPS and Fed Ex are giving the PO such fits, it seems like I should stay.

I kept looking to do something meaningful for the people. Or animals. Take Sidney, that big grouper people liked to watch at the Mirage. It was before my time when he got moved to the Long Beach Aquarium, but I like to think Iíd of been one of them demanding he was too big for the Mirage tank. Meantime, my customers at Mr. Cohenís and the PO seemed to think I gave good S&S. Thatís "simple and straight" irregardless of what Luke would think.

I certainly never expected to get into Madame Tussaudís. They wonít even let in Mr. Tony Orlando, except for his ole oak tree and yellow ribbon, but thatís because he had a falling out with Mr. Newton over money. He ought to of known better. Mr. Newton got his start in the Carousel Showroom of Sam Boydís Fremont Hotel & Casino. They donít call him the "King of Las Vegas" for nothing. Thereís a boulevard named for him. Why heís had more standing ovations than any other entertainer in the world! The real "King" didnít go over all that well here at first, though he made up for it by marrying Miss Priscilla Beaulieu at the Aladdin, which was later imploded. No relation. But he had a fabulous come-back and went on to perform ten years at the Las Vegas Hilton, which still has one of his famous sequined jumpsuits, and Col. Tom Parkerís memorial service was held there, too. But the Vegas lights didnít go off for Mr. Presley. They did for President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Rat Packers Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra. Will they for Mr. Newton when his time comes?

They put me in "Madame Tussaudís, Too," along with Mr. Orlandoís tree and ribbon. Though, if Iím any judge, Miss Tussaud got my hair from Sergeís Showgirl Wigs and not from its outlet, which I certainly appreciated and wouldnít of expected. Even if it was sort of like Luke wanting me to start in Mustang II, I never imagined heíd come to Vegas or go there and recognize me. Iíd been gone from Reno almost eight years.

Afterwards, I called Whitey, who graciously did some checking for me. The scuttlebutt was Lukeíd gotten into money troubles and split. Why Vegas I canít imagine. But then Iíd picked it so maybe we were more alike than I wanted to believe. Anyhow heíd come to Vegas and maybe was just being a tourist for awhile. Mr. Newton was the star for Madame Tussaudís opening, and Luke had always had a soft spot for him singing "Red Roses for a Blue Lady." He went, and I guess he must of wandered into Madame Tussaudís, Too and found me as "Miss Spam Maps of Vegas." Iíd been in the papers a number of times, always careful not to let reporters get a full-on face. Luke didnít read papers and wasnít likely to know me un-cheap and post-office-uniformed.

I guess Luke took it as a mission to find me when he found my likeness in Madame Tussaudís, Too. By then, I had moved out of Mr. Cohenís into a house Walt and me had bought in Henderson. We wanted to be married, but Iíd had to tell him the truth about being married to Luke. He wanted me to file for divorce, but I knew Luke was cotton-mouth-mean and would of worried us to death or tried to make Walt pay him to give me a divorce. And Walt would of. Heís that nice and that wanting-everything-to-work-right-for-everybody-or-as-many-as-possible.

But everybody knew about me and the PO even if they didnít know my real name, and Luke showed up there. Fortunately, I was off that day. Fortunately for me at least. Not so fortunately for Luke. The wrong people heard about him asking around. I might of been able to talk some sense into Luke, though Walt says I couldnít have.

Luke appeared suddenly and disappeared suddenly. The word about him appearing got to Walt and from Walt to me. I waited for him to show up. To bring me down. Nothing happened. Walt insisted we go, as usual, to the Celebrity Deli the next Saturday evening. A lot of the old-timers hung out there, and there was a lot of tale-swapping about bosses in general and pit bosses in particular and about the good old days of Mr. Bugsy and Mr. Hughes. That night, I could tell they all knew about me and Luke. For one thing, one of the waitresses, who were all pretty much middle-aged here, brought me a red rose. It scared me, actually. It wasnít just that the only place in town where women got a rose was Hugoís Cellar. It was that it was a red rose and I was a blue lady. Who knew what?

What had happened to Luke? I had nightmares about the possibilities. Buried quietly in the desert. Thrown dead into Mouseís Tank in Valley of Fire State Park. Locked into one of Mr. Bugsyís tunnels. Shot on a Vegas street like Tupac Shakur. Sold as hamburger. I knew he hadnít been kidnapped by Area 51 aliens. Luke was too alien for aliens, though I didnít mean to be unkind, particularly at this juncture in his life. Or death. Fed to the Siegfried-Roy white tigers. Drowned in the pool at the Hard Rock. Iíd be able to tell if the underwater music suddenly went to "Red Roses For a Blue Lady." But the globe in the Center Bar was inscribed with "One Love, One World." Nobody there would kill even a sidewinder like Luke.

The letter was delivered by a man driving a rented (Walt said) black limousine. It was gold-edgedóenvelope and letteróand he brought it up the walk on a red velvet cushion. Walt said it was real gold. He took off his hat when he presented it to me. Walt had to call me to the door. The man had to place it personally in my hands. Walt tried to tip him, but he looked scared, protested, including with his hands, and went off down the walk a lot faster than heíd come. It was addressed to Miss Spam Maps of Vegas in gold calligraphy, also real according to Walt. The seal over the point of the envelope was in red. The letter said:

Dear Miss Spam Maps of Vegas:

This is to inform you that your husband, Mr. Luke Fallon, late of Reno, has met with an unfortunate demise and is your husband no more.

Please continue in your present line of work for the good of Las Vegas.

Most sincerely yours,

One of the many devoted admirers of
Miss Spam Maps of Vegas

There was a stamp like the one in the seal where your name would go in the complimentary close. Walt said it was very old. Said he bet it went back to Roman times.

Once I settled down somewhat over Luke, Walt pushed the wedding. But all our friends were divided on where it would be, so Walt said weíd do it twice. Unlike Luke, Walt never did anything halfway. Once at the oldest wedding chapel, the Wee Kirk Oí the Heather, and once in the Candlelight. We had four Elvis impersonators, all of them our friends.

Lynn Veach Sadler has a B.A. from Duke, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Formerly a college president in Vermont, she now runs a small press. A chapbook, Poet Geography, is forthcoming; and her poems have been published in or are forthcoming in Asheville Poetry Review, Bay Area Poets Coalition Anthology, The Abiko Literary Quarterly, The Robert Frost Review, Amelia, The Sandhills Review, Snakeskin Poetry Webzine, and Whiskey Island Magazine. Her stories have been published widely and have won the North Carolina Writers' Network and the Talus and Scree competitions. Her first play, Gnat, won the New Play Award from the Paul Green Foundation; and received a Paul Green Multi-Media Award. She recently completed her first musical, Coming Country.

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