We walked out of Balley’s, a roving bachelor party looking for the right bar or Blackjack table. I’d lost my ass playing three-card poker, and the rest of my group lagged behind.
A steady stream of Vegas bodies moved both directions of a crosswalk staircase. I tried to step slowly so my friends might keep up, but the current waits for no one except the migrant workers handing out small cards for hookers—rocks in the stream.
The wide crosswalk provided some relief from the rush of people so I stopped and watched a man with an electric guitar and small amp playing “American Woman.” Another man with a briar-patch beard sat next to an upturned ball cap and a sign reading “too ugly to hook.”
In the quiet that followed guitar man’s song, a voice projected over the buzz of moving people. “Kick me in the nuts for twenty bucks,” a man shouted. He stood near the end of the crosswalk holding a cardboard sign that read, “kick me in the nuts?”. He was young, early twenties, and his clothes dangled from thin arms and legs. He smiled with repeated shouts, “Twenty bucks, kick me in the nuts!” Unlike the man too ugly to hook, who simply sat on the ground and stared, this young man’s face reflected the liveliness of the street.
Under the neon lights, his skin looked a dull shade of peach, like he was covered in layers of plastic wrap. His face had patches of hair that might look impressive on someone ten years younger but on him looked ragged and dirty.
In hearing the man, I visualized the toe of a boot smashing my own nuts and remembered the pain of contact from years past. The uncontrollable burn, the body-snatching sickness deep in my gut that recedes slowly.
After a moment, the friends I’d been waiting for came walking my way. I jumped back into the stream beside them, and we continued across the street when a familiar voice commanded us to hold up. Chuck, a member of our group, was talking to the man with the “kick me in the nuts?” sign. The rest of us clustered at the top of the staircase trying not to interrupt the flow of people.
After only a minute, Chuck and the man came walking up to our group. Chuck pointed to Sam, the soon-to-be groom, and presented the man as a gift to him. Sam looked hesitant and waved his hands in protest, but the others pushed him closer to the man while laughing and clapping in praise at Chuck’s gift.
I stood silent with my hands interlocked at my belt. This won’t happen, I thought. And yet, I saw the group turn to Sam. I saw him blush and hold up his hands asking them to stop but only in the most lighthearted way.
A part of me forced my hands up in a signal asking my friends to stop before letting them fall back to their clenched position at my belt. I turned and fixed my gaze on a large sign for Paris, unable to look at my friends, and thankful I couldn’t look at myself.
The man encouraged Sam as well, his excitement matching the building frenzy around him. With nearly fifteen dedicated onlookers, Sam gave in, and I stared more intently at the neon sign for Harrah’s.
The crowd surrounding Sam had reached at least twenty-five people, and everyone stood surprisingly quiet as the money changed hands.
I held my breath, waiting for the laughter and collective exhale of the audience to signal an end to the show. I waited to hear the man scream or fall or cry and turned my head toward anything other than what was happening five feet away from me.
My eyes squinted as a reflex, and the neon lights became blurry and dull. Waiting for the street to make sounds again, a violent force struck me on the side. I lost my balance and fell face-first to the ground.
The silence remained, no laughs or screams, just anticipation that wouldn’t release. My scraped hands pressed equal parts pavement and discarded hooker cards. Looking up, I saw the kick-me-in-the-nuts man running past Harrah’s. His loose shirt and baggy jeans billowed out like the parachute of a drag racer, but he wasn’t slowing down. He navigated the stream of people with precision, and was gone before Chuck got beyond, “Hey, asshole! Hey!”
The crowd slowly broke away, carrying a new, anxious laughter up and down stream.
My friends picked me up, and we continued our walk down the strip. We found the next casino, and I lost two hundred dollars shooting craps. I watched servers in short skirts and body glitter walk from table to table. I watched the night turn back into morning and the numbers on the jackpots climb higher and higher. As we headed back towards the hotel, Chuck and the others grumbled about the man who, it turned out, wanted twenty dollars to run down the street. Eventually, they turned it into a joke, another story to tell back home huddled around a table at the bar.
Marcus Meade is an Assistant Professor – General Faculty at the University of Virginia in the Academic and Professional Writing Program. He focuses primarily on scholarship in Rhetoric and Composition, but occasionally finds time to write short fiction, music, and baseball commentary. His interests are eclectic, but his intent is always the same, to write something that helps people.