Published Monthly

Golden Brown
by Brian Wright

I keep telling Farley he has it made. He lives, after all, in a place where the sun shines the whole time, doing possibly the easiest job in the world, and able to indulge his favourite hobby to the full.

But all he wants is out.

We share an apartment. And while I slave at my job in Cleopatra’s Court, one of the newest and biggest gambling hells on the Strip, with a towel around my waist and a smaller one on my head, Farley potters along to the local TV station three times a day, every day, and tells the viewing public that it’s going to be, is, was another hot one.

Then he goes home and signs onto the Internet.

Seems like the barometer of Farley’s existence is as steady as a rock, even though he’s surrounded by people who are experiencing every kind of high and low in a city that’s swept from end to end by illusion and disillusion, a world centre of emotional turbulence.

Appearances can be deceptive, however. He craves excitement alright, just of a different kind.

The monotony of his job is the problem.

Not that he wants to make it as a barman or croupier or become a minister of religion and join together out-of-towners in a mock-up of the Sistine Chapel. No, you have to understand that Farley is one of the few people living in the desert town who isn’t here under false pretences - Oh, I actually own several gold mines, I drive a cab for fun - he wants to get out to get on, to advance in his chosen career.

Above all, he wants some action. He dreams of forecasting real weather.

"They have fantastic climate patterns over in Europe," he once told me, a dreamy smile on his face. "Well-defined changes of season and enough extremes to keep anyone happy. Floods in Germany. Avalanches in the French Alps. Gale-force winds around the North Sea. Wonderful!"

It’s funny but the guy never looks more blissful than when he’s rattling off a string of deadly natural disasters.

He doesn’t deny that women are part of the attraction. "Somehow they have more depth than the girls in this part of the world," he says in his solemn way. "Same as the weather." And that’s where the Internet comes in.

Although he tells me it’s mainly to keep in touch with developments in his profession, studying research papers, seeking out job opportunities, and so on, I know for a fact that he spends a lot of his time just chatting with young ladies. He claims to be a killer flirt in cyberspace.

I thought he was joshing me, though, when he said he’d made a romantic connection online.

It was only when he started out for the airport that I realised he was serious. Seemed like the chick came from somewhere in Central Europe. Farley had been bombarding her with electronic flattery for months, working his way up to a request for free board and lodging in Transylvania or wherever she came from.

But the girl had beaten him to the punch.

"Invited herself over for a holiday," he said, looking sheepish. Then he brightened. "But my turn next." And then: "Boy, I hope she’s good-looking!"

Turned out that he hadn’t even asked to see her picture. He was either a real cool dude or the most desperate guy I’ve ever met! I tried telling him not to raise his hopes, that she would probably be as ugly as the weather in Transylvania, the human equivalent of lashing rain and ice-cold winds. But I could tell he wasn’t listening.

I feared the worst when I got back from the casino that evening. She was there alright, sitting on the couch next to my roommate, whose smile was finishing up somewhere behind his ears.

He was right to look pleased, I had to admit. Alright, she would never win a beauty pageant, her eyes were too close together and her legs a little short for that, but she had shining dark hair and pert breasts and a nice smile. Farley had done OK for someone whose courting had been carried out by e-mail.

She spoke good English too - although I could see her struggling to understand when Farley asked about average rainfall levels in her country. I wondered at that moment if they had any real future together.

While Farley was in the kitchen making coffee, she told me she’d always wanted to live in America; and I got the impression she wasn’t planning to return to Europe in a hurry, if at all. Farley came back into the room humming the Blue Danube.

I sensed then that there were storms ahead.

Natasha quickly made herself at home. I was relieved that she seemed to get on well with Farley. Somehow he became a less intense person in her company, even began to laugh at himself when she made fun of his never-ending questions about the climate of Mitteleuropa.

"But I love the weather here in Vegas," she told him. "No fog, no snow. It is perfect!"

She spent many hours tanning herself on the roof of the apartment. Farley joined her there only occasionally - for someone whose business is the great outdoors, he seems remarkably averse to experiencing it up close.

"The sun gives me a headache," he explained apologetically when Natasha pointed this out to him.

One time, she talked us into spending the day at a water park, and I couldn’t help observing the contrast in my companions as we wandered around the different slides. Natasha with her honey-coloured body and my roommate looking like someone who’d spent the whole of his existence under grey skies.

They’d only be happy together if they swapped continents, I decided, with the faultless logic of my Irish forebears.

So it concerned me that Farley had fallen for her. She liked him, too, but more in the way of being a friend. She shared his bed and I knew they made love - hey, the walls are thin in Vegas apartments - but there were few signs that she regarded him as anything more than the nocturnal equivalent of a watery thrill ride.

Farley, on the other hand, was like a small pooch that had found someone to rub up against every moment of the day.

His work suffered, as did his social life - Christ, the traffic in his favourite chat rooms on the Net must have halved after he met Natasha - but I realised it was true romance when he agreed to take her dancing.

Let’s just say the club scene isn’t Farley’s natural habitat.

The one and only time we’d hit a nightspot together, he stumbled into and overturned a table of expensive drinks, got himself threatened by a long-haired pretty boy he short-sightedly asked to dance, and suffered a massive nosebleed, all in the space of ten chaotic and very sweaty minutes. There are twisters that have made less impact in the same amount of time.

The next day, they weren’t speaking over breakfast. Feeling pleased because I hadn’t had to make a trip to the hospital or the local jail during the night, I attempted to lighten the mood. "The club still in one piece?" I asked my friend cheerfully.

Although it wasn’t the subtlest of openings, I’ve found the blunt approach works best with introverts like Farley.

Unusually sullen, he tried to ignore me, but wandering around in public in a skirt can make you pretty thick-skinned. "So what happened?" I persisted, imagining that he’d fallen flat on his face on the dance floor or set fire to himself or something, the reason why Natasha sat there looking as if she’d prefer to put her melon slice up his arse than in her mouth.

"Ask her," was all Farley said, folding his skinny pale arms. But Natasha just shrugged and wandered up to the roof with her towel.

Things were more friendly that evening. A long stint of tanning always put Natasha in a good mood. I’ve never known anyone get more pleasure out of the sun, like she was trying to make up for twenty-four years of cold, hard winters in a few weeks. She had already gone from vanilla through butterscotch to a rich toffee colour.

There was a glow under the sheen of her skin, too, as if her insides were enjoying the change of scene as much as the rest of her.

Farley had made the first move of reconciliation, of course, a puppy dog can only hold itself back for so long.

"He brought me candy," Natasha told me with a smile afterwards. While Farley spent time with his computer - the new addiction not completely replacing the old - she confided to me that she liked him a lot but thought their relationship was becoming too serious. I said I agreed. This seemed to encourage Natasha and she leaned forward, showing a lot of brown cleavage.

"Sometimes I wish he was more ... how do you say ... more like a real American."

For a moment, I flattered myself it was a pass, but soon realised she was just talking in general terms. She, too, couldn’t help drawing comparisons, this time between her boyfriend and all the hunks strutting their Venice Beach muscles along the Strip.

Seemed that Natasha had a fancy for body-builders, thought they were the only true representatives of the American race. People like me were almost but not quite there, ultimately just a European with an accent and a suntan. Farley partially missed out even on that score.

It was her obvious interest in some of the other male dancers that had sparked off a row at the club the night before. But now all was forgiven, Farley practically romping around her feet for the rest of the evening. There was no missing the gleam in Natasha’s eyes, however, whenever a big, good-looking guy appeared on TV.

The storm clouds, I felt, were gathering overhead.

Natasha had been with us for a month when Farley started to talk about meeting her parents. I think it was a genuine attempt to formalise their relationship - in his innocence, he probably pictured a wedding in a pine grove with toasts in spiced vodka and gypsy violinists playing afterwards - but also a first move towards his ambition of leaving Vegas for a world of rollercoaster atmospheric conditions.

It was no surprise to me that Natasha showed zero enthusiasm for the idea. "But I like it here, honey," she pouted.

She was beginning to sound as well as look the part, bronzed to the point of reflecting back the sunlight, brimming with health, looking as good to eat as a basted turkey.

She grew angry when Farley kept on about going back with her to Europe. The inner effulgence I’d already noticed became more obvious at such moments, as if some sort of volcano was smouldering inside her.

The eruption wasn’t long in coming. It was bad enough that my friend didn’t look American – but not wanting to be American. Natasha could never forgive him for that. When she finally exploded, it must have been heard at the Grand Canyon.

Farley was upset enough to come to Cleopatra’s Court to tell me, almost weeping, that Natasha had moved out. It was probably the first time he’d been in there or any other casino. Hell, for all I know, he might not even have realised until then that Vegas is a gambling town.

When I got back that evening, he was in his room and I could hear the clicking of the computer keyboard. The Net, an ever-present solace in times of trouble.

He never referred to his ex-girlfriend again. I was secretly pleased, no longer worried I might have to find a new roommate, still bearing a grudge against Natasha for implying that I wasn’t a true-blue Yank.

Because I didn’t want to rake up the past, I never mentioned it to Farley when I saw her one more time, driving past as she strolled along the sidewalk with her new beau, a side of beef in singlet and cut-off shorts, the statutory brush of greasy blond hair reaching almost halfway down his back.

It was mid-afternoon, a time when all right-thinking people in the desert town have long since found air-conditioned heaven, and the pair of them looked as hot as hell.

Natasha had turned a deep charcoal, and I remember thinking her sun-broiled skin could have been used to toast bread.

Farley was back in the groove by then, a little work, a lot of ‘research’ on the Internet. He’d taken the break-up hard for a time, making no reference to a spell of weather in the Alps so atrocious it had even reached American TV screens, the sort of climatic aberration that normally has him wetting himself with excitement.

I knew things were on the mend, however, when he enthused to me about a blizzard that had hit the Low Countries. Reeling off a list of similar disasters in the past twenty years, he looked happy for the first time in an age.

Now he’s racing along the information superhighway again, even tells me he’s found a new girl over in Europe.

Seeing the look on my face, he said, "Don’t worry. I checked this one out good. She hates hot weather and flying. My perfect woman!" He must be confident of getting across there; he’s asked for an extended holiday from the TV station.

I wish him well. I’ll soon be on my way, too, to the City of Angels. Oh, didn’t I mention that I’m really an actor, just resting up in Vegas for a while?

There’s one farewell present I won’t be giving him - any mention of a bizarre little piece in the local rag about a deeply-tanned young woman who suddenly burst into flames and burned to a crisp in a downtown supermarket. Some speculation that it was a rare case of spontaneous combustion.

There was a follow-up story a few days later, saying how strange it was that no-one had come forward to identify the woman. Not if she was an illegal immigrant and didn’t really know anyone, I thought.

It would be unfair to share my suspicions with Farley, not when he’s about to set off for his Brave Old World. The last thing he needs is another reminder of his track record.

And perhaps, this time, his luck really has changed.

Personally, however, I wouldn’t mind betting that one part of Europe is in for the mother of a heatwave …

Brian Wright lives in the UK and works in the computer field. He admires Bob Dylan, George Orwell and Martin Scorsese.


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