The whistle located in Coach Hark’s mouth sounded off as Nate Colton and Nathan Filmix pushed their palms to the ground, finishing off one last burpee. The sun was sweltering hot as yet another workout on the rooftop gym was completed. Sweat cascaded from their bare chests like a heavy flowing river.
“Good job, you two,” Hark beckoned.
He might have been old but he still had a sharp eye at catching fatigue. Both men were spent. They huffed and puffed for air. Hark knew this was a time to insert himself the right way.
“Nate, you crushed your personal best time. Nathan, I saw great effort out there too,” Hark relayed.
Colton and Filmix smacked fives before going back to catching their breath.
“You know,” Hark started, “You two have been working awfully hard for an awfully long time now and while that sits well with me, what doesn’t, is the lack of unwind time you’ve both had.”
The mighty Coach stowed his whistle in his pocket as he began collecting various bands and balls his pupils just used for their workout.
“I think it’s about time we delve a little further in Vegas life itself. I mean, we’re here after all. I think a bit of a mental break might do the both of you some good,” He directed.
Hark knew Nathan would hate that idea. Born and bred on the battlefield for wrestling, he never cared much for outside distractions but it was tough to argue with Coach Hark’s rationale. A mental disk defragmentation might just be exactly what the doctor ordered. Nate, on the other hand, while similarly consumed with wrestling as a passion, knew his limits and was aware that breaks are sometimes a good thing.
“What do you think?” Filmix asked as he looked over to Colton for guidance.
They were finally at the point where they truly trusted each other. Never before would Filmix think about sharing the experience of wrestling with another person let alone asking them for life advice.
“Going out on the strip to mingle sounds like a good idea. It can be wrestling twenty-four-seven but Nathan, we need to look at this as an opportunity to clear our minds and reset,” Colton advised.
You see, that was the biggest aspect of wrestling life Nathan Filmix found most challenging. Resetting. That wasn’t a word in his vocabulary. He always thought the best way was to simply push through like he had done many times before. All Hark had to do was plant the seed, sit back and watch Colton and Filmix deliberate over the details.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Hark bellowed.
“Same here,” Nathan agreed with a rare half smile.
They took in the light breeze before cleaning up the rooftop gym equipment strewn about.
“But the question is, where should we go? I’m not good at this human stuff,” Filmix put so eloquently.
Hark tossed some medicine balls in the bin as he responded.
“Depends what you want to get out of Vegas. I came to visit here many moons ago when I was a wrestler on tour. Our promotion lit this town on fire. Between shows, heck, between matches, we hit up casinos, gentlemen’s clubs, bars, and everything in between,” Coach said, “And let me tell you, we made some unforgettable memories.”
Entertainment? Casinos? Bars? Women? Nathan wasn’t sure what to think about all that. Again, he felt comfort in the fact that he could probably rely on Nate for direction on most of what they were about to encounter.
“Whatever, anywhere sounds to me as long as we can stop at some point to eat. I’m dying here,” Filmix requested.
Colton had finished cleaning up his portion of the gym so he walked over and slapped his partner on the shoulder in good faith.
“Food? Now, that I can get behind. Vegas has some of the best buffets. We’ll do it all,” Colton exclaimed.
Back in their 28th floor suite in the MGM Grand, the lads were getting ready for their night out. Nathan Filmix was occupying the shower; Nate Colton, having already washed up, was getting dressed. Khakis, brown dress shoes, and a navy blue polo. Nothing fancy, but Nate had never been the black-tie type.
He was just starting the buttons when he heard the familiar beep of the keycard activation. Nate turned around to see Coach Hark entering the room. “Hey, Coach,” he said.
“Hello, son. Got a big night planned?”
“Oh yeah. Got some really good recommendations from a few old friends. Buffet at the Wynn, back here for a Cirque du Soleil show, and then we’ll hit the clubs. It’s going to be a blast.”
Hark gave a big smile. “Sounds great. Look, I wanted to have a quick word with you before you left. See…I’ve got another reason for sending you two out tonight.”
“Let me start by saying how impressed I’ve been with his improvement over the last few months. All this time we’d been trying to forge him into the perfect wrestling machine…but since you two started working together, he’s changed so much. I think we finally see the merits in the parts of life that aren’t in the ring.”
Nate smiled. “I appreciate the compliment, but the credit goes to Nathan. He’s the one putting in the work.”
“All that aside…this is a bit of a test for him. The next round of Survivor is out on the street, like the first one…but there’s going to be less separation from the people out there. Nathan’s never really been in that kind of situation before, and tonight should give us a good idea of how he’ll handle it.”
Colton nodded. “I understand, Coach. I think he’ll be fine, though. He’s been picking up on stuff pretty quickly.”
“Of course. And if we were in just about any city, I wouldn’t be worried. But you know what this city is like.”
“I know what my dad had to say about it. ‘Las Vegas is the worst place in the world to be young and successful,’ he told me. ‘It’s got everything you want, and nothing you need.’”
“Exactly,” Hark replied. “Just keep an eye out for him, huh?”
“Absolutely,” Nate answered with a smile. “He’s my tag team partner, after all.”
Nelson Hark laughed and gave Nate a firm slap on the back. “I’m honestly surprised you haven’t gone out much before this. Figure a young man like yourself would be hitting the big city every chance he got.”
Nate gave a noncommittal shrug. If there was a reason he hadn’t sampled the fruits of Sin City before now, he wasn’t telling.
The water from the showerhead fizzled to a drizzle. Nathan Filmix grabbed a nearby towel and began drying himself off. He could hear muffled murmurs from outside the bathroom but he paid no attention to who it was or what they were talking about. He was excited. For the first time in his life, Nathan was about to go out on the town and do something other than worry about wrestling.
“What to wear? All I brought was workout and wrestling gear,” He muttered to himself.
The terry white cloth gently dried his skin. He was quick to throw a pair of boxers on while contemplating the clothes he had brought.
“I think I have some dockers and a nice polo top I can put on. It’s green. That should work,” Filmix recounted.
He hastily finished up his shower routine and exited the bathroom to see both Coach Hark and his partner Nate standing there.
“Gentlemen,” Filmix acknowledged, “I’m just going to put some clothes on and then I’ll be ready to go.”
“Sounds good,” Colton replied. “I’ll brush my teeth quick, then I’m good to go.”
“Don’t have too much fun, you two,” Coach Hark said, grinning ear to ear. “Or do. I’m not in charge tonight.
The night had started with The Buffet at Wynn, and both men agreed that the establishment deserved its capital letters. Filmix, who had always viewed food as a means of sustenance and nothing more, had been overwhelmed by the sights, smells, and flavors available. He had devoured a round of Thai chicken wings so fast that he was halfway back to the station for seconds when the spice finally kicked in. Nate almost choked on his prime rib from laughter.
After dinner, they headed back to the MGM Grand to see the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka.” The tickets were hard to find, but Colton was sure the show’s fight choreography would hold Nathan’s interest better than the Michael Jackson one.
They cut through the casino floor on their way to the theater, and Filmix was almost overwhelmed. Mouth agape, he marveled at the dazzling lights, flashing bulbs, and ringing bells that signified another Lucky Winner. They took in the sights and sounds for a while, before Filmix turned his own way.
“I just want to check out over here for a minute,” He said before departing.
Nathan tried to play it cool, but he was certainly out of his element. There were a ton of flashing lights. He decided it was best to take on the floor as if it were a wrestling challenge.
“Just because someone pokes you in the eyes doesn’t mean you go blind,” He muttered to himself as he kept his head down and away from most of the lights.
Filmix finally stumbled upon a large table covered in green felt. A female dealer who looked to be in good shape in her own right, stood by it as she continually slung a deck of cards around.
“Care to play, hun?” The lady attempted to coax Nathan, “It’s a small buy-in for blackjack.”
Nathan’s eyes scanned the environment in front of him like a robot. There was a sign that read ‘Minimum Bet: $50’ on it.
“Hmmmmmmmm. I’m not sure I can afford you,” He quipped.
She laughed at the somewhat suggestive remark but The Wrestling Junkie truly didn’t mean for it to come off as such. He wasn’t naturally cool like that, after all.
“Come here and play a hand and let’s see how it goes,” She invited.
Her shiny silver name tag shimmered in the light. Nathan stared at it, not her chest.
“Sure, why not, Trinity,” He said playfully.
So there he was, Mister Nathan Filmix, bigshot gambler and wrestler extraordinaire, about to partake in his first ever hand of blackjack. His first ever something not wrestling related but in his mind, he was gearing this experience of strategy to sharpen his mental acuity and who knows how that was going to help in the future but for right now, he wanted to remain in the moment.
“How does this work?” He asked.
She chuckled, “You can’t go over twenty one.”
The cards were dealt and Filmix got one face up card which was an ace and one face down card.
“Look at the card, hun,” Trinity encouraged.
He picked it up to reveal a ten.
“Looks like you scored blackjack, baby,” She said.
“Is that good?” An unsure Filmix replied.
Trinity set her stack of cards aside and leaned in, so, you know, her actual stack was just a bit more visible from the collar of his blouse. She eyed Nathan up and down and noticed his chiseled physique. Suddenly, she was no longer interested in playing cards with the man.
“Very good,” Trinity spoke softly.
“Annnnnnnnnd that’s enough of that,” Colton said as he swooped in and took Nathan away by the arm.
Beyond confused, Filmix looked back and forth but the further they walked away, the smaller Trinity appeared.
“What was that?” Filmix asked.
“That was nothing you wanted to get involved with my friend. At least not right now,” Colton informed. “Anyway, the show starts pretty soon. Let’s get to our seats.”
The show, as expected, was a big hit. Nathan Filmix was skeptical at first, and occasionally whispered criticisms about the acrobats’ fighting technique. But after a few hushed explanations from Nate Colton, as well as a few “shh”es from surrounding patrons, Nathan found himself getting lost in the wordless story and aerial artistry. At the end of the show, nobody held the standing ovation as long as he did.
Afterwards, there were drinks. Cocktails at Bound–Nate had insisted on cocktails all night, because “I’ll be damned if I’m spending 8 dollars for a Bud Light”–then fancier drinks at the Vesper, followed by Old Fashioneds at the Dorsey, and now…
Now, Nate Colton had no idea where the hell they were. He did know that he wasn’t a fan.
It ain’t a night club, because there’s no dance floor. But they’re still playing that bullshit dance music. Lotta great-looking women, but how can you talk to ’em?
He knew that this was supposed to be one of the hottest spots on the Strip. Everyone else knew it too, because roughly half the population of Las Vegas seemed to be packed inside. He and Nathan Filmix were stuffed into the corner of a booth, surrounded by people they didn’t know, and who were constantly trying to have conversations over each other.
“OMG I love your shoes where did//yeah I lost a bundle at the tables tonight but at least//what’s in this I’m SO DRUNK HAHAHAHA//should go see the Magic Mike show tomorrow–” and on it went until it just blended into a constant, buzzing noise, punctuated by a repetitive tap tap tap tap tap that had been irritating Colton for ten minutes but he had no idea where it was coming from.
For Christ’s sake get me out of here this is driving me crazy who are all these people and where the HELL is that noise coming from
tap tap tap tap tap
Nate’s eyes darted around the room, from the bar to the speakers to the couple grinding on each other in the corner to the strangers sitting way too close to him in the booth. Conversely, Nathan Filmix kept his gaze focused in the same place it had been for the last several minutes.
Colton’s right hand.
tap tap tap tap tap
“Do you want to go?” Filmix asked.
“I SAID, DO YOU WANT TO GO?”
More than anything else in this godforsaken city let me out LET ME OUT
“NAH MAN, THIS PLACE IS A BLAST! BESIDES, YOU’VE STILL GOT HALF YOUR DRINK LEFT!”
Nathan nodded, and took another sip from his glass, cringing as the alcohol taste washed over his tongue.
tap tap tap tap tap
“I THINK I’D LIKE TO GO.”
Oh thank God
“OKAY. LET’S FIND ANOTHER SPOT.”
With a few shoves and a lot of “excuse us,” Filmix and Colton made their escape from the bar and, eventually, the casino. Colton didn’t bother looking to see which one it was, because by that point they all started to look the same.
“Let’s head north,” he said as he walked up the street, only barely looking to see if Filmix heard him. Fortunately, he was able to keep up with his tag team partner, thanks to the fact that the other half of Las Vegas’ population was also wandering aimlessly along the Strip. Still, Colton didn’t seem nearly as tense now that he was outside.
snap snap snap snap snap snap
Except for that moment, when he made a fist.
Filmix glanced at Nate’s hand as soon as the noise started, but that wasn’t the source. It was actually a few feet away, where a man was slapping a stack of cards against his hand. Occasionally he would hand one to a passerby, who would usually drop it within seconds.
“Not much left on this side,” Colton shouted. “Not unless we want to go to the Strat, or all the way to the Old Strip. No thanks,” he said to the man who shoved a card into his face.
snap snap snap
Filmix, his curiosity roused, stopped long enough to accept a card. He took in the information quickly–the eye-catching graphics, the purposefully vague advertising, and the…rather well-endowed young lady with artfully placed stars covering the Premium Exclusive Content.
“What’s this all about?”
“Fuckin’ porn slappers,” Colton grumbled as they continued. “They’re not allowed to talk to people, so they do that shit instead.”
snap snap snap
“They’re handing out ‘escort service’ flyers and stuff like that. Most of ‘em end up–leave me alone–on the ground, so they’re hassling people for nothing.”
snap snap snap
“Then why do it?” Filmix asked as he tucked the card into his pocket.
“They must get a couple of takers, I guess. Probably doesn’t–I said NO–take a lot to cover whatever these clowns get paid.”
snap snap snap
“Have you ever…” Filmix looked at the card again, and noticed a phone number. “…called one of these?”
“Nah,” Colton answered. “Not really my scene. Besides, I don’t want to encourage–”
snap snap snap
“Oh my God WOULD YOU LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!” he screamed as he took a step toward one of the vendors. Fists clenched, face red. “I DON’T WANT YOUR GODDAMN HOOKER FLYERS!”
Nathan Filmix might not have been experienced in social interactions, but he was pretty sure that getting arrested for assault wasn’t part of a “fun night out.”
Partner is struggling won’t ask for help what to do
Tag myself in
Filmix grabbed Colton by the arm and pulled him down the street, hoping to separate his partner from the source of his frustration. It helped that, as Colton continued screaming, the other pedestrians were giving them a wide berth.
“THEY OUGHTTA LEGALIZE PROSTITUTION AND BAN YOU SONS OF BITCHES INSTEAD!”
Plan not working, Filmix thought. Need separation.
He looked around for something, anything, that might help. Nathan found that salvation off in the distance, high above his head.
“I have an idea,” he said calmly. “Let’s go this way.” Filmix continued to pull Nate to the north, until Colton finally turned his head and started walking on his own.
“Is this better?” Nathan asked.
“Much,” Nate responded as he stared out over the city from the Observation Deck at the Stratosphere. “This was a great idea. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Filmix answered as he slumped back in his chair. He wasn’t about to get near the glass; his low tolerance for alcohol was making the city spin below him. He was happy to sit in the booth and nurse his glass of water.
Colton took another drink from his whiskey and Coke before joining Filmix at the booth.
“So,” Filmix said, a little slower than normal. “You wanna talk about it?”
I absolutely do not, Colton thought. But alcohol had a way of loosening tongues.
“I’ve got an…issue with crowds. When things get too noisy, too…chaotic. It bugs me a lot.”
“Oh,” Nathan replied, unsure of what to actually say.
“Most of the time I’m fine; like, this place is busy, but it’s not bad. But that last place we were at, and then out on the street…no. Too much.”
“You didn’t seem bothered at that circus show.”
Colton took another drink, longer than most. “It’s different. The chairs helped, so we weren’t all smashed together…and everyone’s attention was on the stage, so the energy was…focused, I guess? Does that make sense?”
Nathan shrugged. He had experienced a lot of new things in the last few months, but he’d be the first to admit that very little of it made sense. “What about when you wrestle?”
“Never been a problem. There, I think it helps that I’m separated from everyone else. Just me, my opponent, and the ref. No sweat.” He chuckled. “I can handle being in front of a crowd, but not being in one. Is that weird?”
“How do you handle it? You’ve been a champ all night. How do you deal with all…that?”
Filmix thought for a moment. “I’ve been ignoring it.”
Nate stared at him…and then burst out laughing. “Of course you have. Well, buddy…” he checked his bare wrist, having lost his watch two bars ago, “…I think it’s time to call it a night. What did you think of your first night on the town?”
“That was…” A wave of memories from the evening washed over Nathan. “Something else.”
Nate laughed again, and pushed himself to a mostly upright position. “Hell yeah. Glad you had a good time. And I’m glad I was here to take care of you.”
This time, it was Nathan’s turn to laugh.