Las Vegas

An Amari Christmas (or The Pablito Who Stole Christmas)

by Pablo Harris


“Hey T, how’s it going?”

“Hutty! What up man?”

“Oh, just dealing with all this shit that’s about to go down.”

“Yeah, you all right with all this? You ready for it?”

“Yeah, sure, but got a question for you.”


“So, what’s up with Pablo? We got this Vegas bachelor party comin’ up and then there’s the big day. You know, my fiance’s getting nervous. She really wants to get a final headcount on this. Last time we talked he was all like ‘yeah, I’ll be there’ but that was two months ago and hasn’t responded since.”

“Yeah? Isn’t he a groomsman?”

“Yeah, s’posed to be. I even convinced Annie to have her friend Lena, Pablo’s favorite UCD Alpha Phi, be his wedding partner.”

“Leee-nnaaa. Shit, that guy owes you.”

“No shit he owes me. He still hasn’t paid me back for a couple of O-Zs of Humboldt’s finest.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, whatever, it’s not about the money. He owes me, owes Annie, owes you for sure, for giving that guy a roof over his head and getting him laid! Last new year’s, remember how he was all moping around because he had to catch his flight back to work in Tibet.”

“Ha! Korea, man.”

“Korea, Tibet, same thing. He was all sad because what, he was leaving that tall, skinny, super-nerdy white girl who spoke Spanish?”

“Yeah, Brooke. But in his defense, she was alright if you’re into that bookworm librarian thing.”

“Yes, we all know he’s got strange taste in strange. I mean, ‘with the first overall pick in the Great Texas Bush League College Porn Draft of 2000, Pablo selects: Women Over 40′. Not even that chicken-licker Elsa was going to touch it with a ten foot dildo. Then traded his second, third, and fourth round picks to move up in the draft to make sure he got Joy of Spexxx?  Who the fuck does that?”

“The worst, real or fantasy, general manager ever.”

“Right. Anyway, you gave him a bottle of Fernet Branca. Annie and I introduced Lena to him. You know the rest.”

“I know, that lucky bastard. And what is it with ‘Frisco, restaurant industry people, and that vile liquor? Fernet to Pablo is like spinach to Popeye. In one shot he went from Dopey the goat to some drunk ass kid on Christmas. Like he just got all the Star Wars cantina scene figures and a Millenium Falcon tambien.”

“So, have you talked to that asshole lately?”

“Yeah, talked with him last weekend but I don’t know what’s up with him. He told me his contract ends at the end of the month but is considering extending his contract there at that, what do you call it, hogwash job he’s got. So, I don’t know, man. He told me some bullshit about how he needs to save some money, wants to move to the Bay but not sure when. So I called him out on this and how his life out there is bullshit and should be back to teaching in Cali. Hell, even his restaurant jobs got to better than what he’s doing now. So, after calling him on that shit he’s shoveling, he admitted: he’s scared of Vegas.”

“What the? Since when?”

“Since the last time he was there for that Christmas. And Heidi.”

*   *   *

December 2009. The last Christmas I spent in the States with my family while I was still bartending in Northern California and about to enroll for my final semester at Cal State. When my maternal grandmother passed before Thanksgiving it was a difficult time for the Herez family.  Especially tough for my mother.

After the plates were cleared, another disappointing trio of Turkey Day NFL games were in the books, and we were approaching the dregs of vintage Graham’s Port, my mom requested the boys turn off the SportsCenter. Even my father and brother were quick to oblige. The TV is never turned off in the Herez house. That’s when I knew what was coming. “Aw shit, here it comes, the intervention, fuck. Now? Not now,” I thought.

She surprised me with an unexpected tack.

“Look, Paul, I know you don’t like Vegas but I don’t want to be here without my mom this year so we’ve decided we’re going to Vegas for Christmas this year. I need the distraction. I don’t want to be here without her.”

“I think this is the worst idea ever.”

“I knew you would say that. But I want this distraction. Your grandmother not being here, I don’t want to be here. And because I know you hate Vegas, I used my Platinum Points to book you a suite at Harrahs. So, if you’ll join us, your room’s already booked. You can take the train down on the 24th to Hanford and Dad and I will pick you up there and you can ride with us.”

“Or I can bring him,” my brother offered. “I’ll pick you up at the Bakersfield Amtrak, bro, and you can catch a ride with me.”

“Does that work for you, mijo,” my mom asked directed at me.

“Not really. I haven’t been home in a while -”

“That’s your own fault,” my brother interrupted.

“Fine. Sure. But I just want to lay on the living room floor next to a Christmas tree, watch some movies, eat some tamales, and be home. And for a family, especially for this family to go to Vegas for Christmas, this is a terrible idea.”

My mom began sobbing so my dad interjected, “Can you just think of someone other than yourself right now.”

Mom continued crying, “ I don’t want to be here at home for Christmas. And now, not only with your grandmother being gone, now one of my boys might not be here to spend Christmas with the family.”

I yielded, “You know, I’m sure it’s not easy letting go of your mother, my grandma, especially at this time of year. But there must be better ways to grieve. But . . . fine. Let me see what flights are available out of Sacto. You’re right. You know I hate this idea, but yeah, I’ll be there.”

“Thank you, mijo.”

The afternoon of Christmas Eve at SMF, waiting to board the plane, I read this brief article in an abandoned Time magazine: Best Opening Fiction Lines of All Time. Number one was awarded to Anna Karenina’s first line,

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I don’t know anything about happy families but I do believe Tolstoy was onto something. “Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Each unhappy  family is unhappy in the grips of its own grief and its vices. For my mom, its Vegas, bingo, and slot machines. For my dad, it’s golf and horse racing. For my brother, its prostitutes. For me, it’s drink.

Three hours later, I touched down at McCarron, grabbed the shuttle to the strip, immediately checked in through the Platinum reception, tossed my backpack and a small duffle of presents on the sofa, and took inventory of the mini fridge and wet bar. Eight dollars for a bottle of Heineken. Twelve dollars for a can of cashews. I’m not a gambler but time to hit the casino.

*  *  *

“What can I get for you?” she asked.

Eyes transfixed by the electronic spinning reels and entranced by the incessant pprrdlulululu-boo, pprrdlulululu-boo and the occasional cha-chinging sound to imitate coins hitting the payout tray, I didn’t even bother to look up to see who‘s taking the order.

Campari soda lime,” I curtly demanded.

“Campari soda lime,” she slowly repeated, logging the order and noting his manner.

While slow playing nickels trying to drink as many as I can with the least damage accrued, she returned a good five minutes later.

“Campari soda lime,” she reiterated while setting a cocktail napkin next to the ashtray and the slot machine.

First I glanced at the just placed high ball glass and followed the trail of a pale dainty retreating hand up a well-toned arm. Over to fleshy mango-shaped breasts stuffing a burgundy spaghetti strapped corset top. Up to sparkling blue eyes that pierced the second-hand smoke framed by curly golden tresses. I was instantly sprung. We locked eyes as she meekly smiled then slightly bobbed her head a few times before averting my gaze as if she just dropped something on the floor.

“Oh, here, this is for you,” putting a fiver on her tray.”                                                                                                                


“Thank you.”

Then an audible sigh before she opened with, “So, I got to tell you, my bartender told me ‘look out for that guy’.”

“Look out for that guy? Interesting. Why?”

“He said watch out for that guy because he might be a ‘made man’.”

“Made man, huh?”

“Well, only a ‘made man’ orders a Campari soda lime so you must be in the mafia. Sorry if you’re Italian. Are you Italian?”

“No. Just a fan of the amari, the bitters, and in need of an aperitif.”

“Isn’t Campari a digestif?”

“Actually it’s both. I make my own rules. And if I really was a made man I’d be drinking Averna. Campari’s from Milan, Averna is Sicily.”

“You sound like a made man to me.”

“Would a made man be plugging nickels into a machine at Harrah’s? I mean, if I were ‘made’ I’d be at the high end tables across the strip at Caesar’s, up at The Wynn, or downtown at The Plaza. No offense.”

“None taken. I’d rather be there, too, I guess. But you certainly are bitter.”


“Well then, if you’re not a ‘made man’ then let me guess, you’re in the industry.”


“So, you a chef, sous, on the line, garde manger?”

“Nah, I’m front-of-the house. I serve, bartend, stuff like that.”

“I see. Cool. Oh, I’m Heidi from San Diego. As you can see,” pointing to the name tag above her perfect left b-cup. “What’s your name? Where you from?”

“I’m Paul. I live, work, go to school in Sacramento.”

“And what brings you here Paul?”

“Well, my family wanted to do something different this year. So here I am, just killing some time before the Christmas Eve family dinner thing in need of a Campari,” before proceeding to drain my glass in three gulps.

“Oh, would you like another?

“Yes please.”

“Alright, I’ll be back.”

This time she promptly returned with a cocktail brandishing a vibrant, deeper hue and continued the inquiry.

“So, where you going for dinner tonight, Paul?”

“Upstairs at The Range.”

“Cool. The Range is really good.”

“Right on. Never been.”

“And Oscar’s working tonight. You should ask for a table in his section. Tell him you’re a friend of Heidi.”

We chatted about California, working in the industry, this and that for a few minutes.

“What’s your plan after dinner?”

“More of the same.”

“Drinking Campari for nickels?”

“Pretty much. I’ll be in need of a digestif.”

“Well, I’ll be around here until one. Come by and say hello when you’re done.”

I slammed another. “Alright then. But hey, Heidi, one for the road.”

“You got it.”

*  *  *


I returned around a quarter to one. Waiting for her to return. Preparing for an after dinner nightcap. Heidi sneaked up behind me.

“Any luck tonight?”

“Nuh. Not yet.”

“Well, let me help you change that. My fiance’s bartending at Rio tonight so we’ll meet him around four. So, like I said, I have a fiance but I do have a friend that I think you should meet. My friend Kat just moved here from Hesperia – ”

“You mean Hysteria.”                                                                                                                                                                          

“Oh, you know it then.”

“Yeah, I dated a girl from there once. That place is just a dump in the desert. The locals look like Joshua trees, arms full of spikes.”

Heidi, shaking her head, “Well, yeah, but anyway, you’d like her. She’s cocktailing at Deju Vu but is starting at UNLV this semester in hospitality/restaurant management. She’s at my place now so I can give her a call. And a bunch of us are finishing work here soon. We’re meeting next door for some Christmas cheer at the Imperial Palace then to The Fireside.” She smiled coyly and leaned into my ear teasingly, “And you know, Christmas only happens once a year.” She erected her posture and playfully asked, “So . . . should I call her? Want to come?”

Of course she knew the answer. Of course, I should’ve known better. But after all the preprandial drinks, the Dom, the Rochioli, the Opus, and internally repeating her maxim, all commitments to Christmas Day family obligations were long forgotten.

“Of course,” I answered.

“Great! I’m almost done so let me get you a drink before I clock off and go change real quick. Another Campari, Paul?”

“Nah, J-Dub Black and water, please.”

“Alright then. Now that’s a drink.”


Christmas Day. 2pm. I woke up on the floor of a hotel room that was not mine. Then I saw her sitting there on an angry chair. My mother glaring through moist eyes.

“My God, Paul, I don’t know what to do with you.”

“What do you mean what to do with me? I’m fine.”

“No you’re not! You were supposed to go golfing with your dad and your brother this morning. They couldn’t find you so you’re dad went looking for you. He found you with two, two prostitutes, and a security guard trying to get you in the elevator back to your room. Your dad brought you here. You could barely walk. Your eyes rolling in the back of your head, slurring about Heidi this and Kat that.”

“Prostitutes? No, those are my friends.”

“Those are not your friends. Your friends do not leave you so messed up like this. So you missed golf, we were supposed to have brunch here and open presents and . . . I just don’t know what to do with you. So, you need to sober up and then we’re going to have a talk later. And you need to apologize to your dad when you see him for missing his tee time and for calling him a cock-blocking fag in your drunken stupor.”

“I said that?”

“Uh, yes, and you said worse to me.”

“Really? What did I say?”

“You know, maybe I will remind you sometime but not now. I don’t want to talk to you right now. Why don’t you get up, go back to your room, take a shower, go back to sleep if you need to sleep it off, and maybe we’ll meet up with you later.”

“So where are dad and Vince now?”

“They said they were going to Caesar’s to watch the Lakers game. If you clean yourself up perhaps you can catch them there later.”


*  *  *

“Hey this is Tim, leave me a message and I’ll call you back.”


“Hey, Big T, what up, it’s Paul. I am at the Caesar’s just off the Sportsbook, just pacing around by the elevators, trying to figure out my next move. So . . . maybe you can give me some advice. Answer your phone, damnit! I just need someone to talk to. My parents aren’t talking to me. My brother hates me. So there’s that. Oh yeah, merry Christmas.


With holidaze fading, no family to tend to, I wandered around the Forum and back to the Palace before staggering into Nero’s. I needed a quiet place to just sit and reflect on all that transpired. The lounge was helmed by a friendly, immaculately manicured yet masculine barkeep.

“Hey there, what can I get for you?”

“Hey, I need a glass of white wine, for now. You got a list?”

“Sure. What do you like? Something crisp and lean like a sauvignon blanc or something fuller, richer like a chardonnay? Or perhaps you like something in between like our house white, the Sokol Blosser Evolution from Oregon. It offers a little bit of everything,” slightly lisping but it went undetected since my gay-dar was debilitated from last night’s furious assault to the cranium.

“I see you have Sea Smoke pinot by the glass. Wow, that’s highly allocated and never seen offered by the glass. And for $18 a glass; that’s a deal!”

“Well, I guess you know your stuff then.”                                                                                                                                         

“I love that wine. I say, if California was ever to do what France did and ranked all the towns and vineyards in Burgundy, Sea Smoke vineyard would certainly be a Grand Cru.”

“Oh, for sure. Well would you like a glass of that now?”

“I’ll wait on that. But please, a glass of the house white. I prefer white wine for breakfast. Works better than coffee.”

“Uh, you know it’s almost 5:30pm now.”

“Well, that’s breakfast for me today.”

“Long night, huh?”

“Long night. Long morning.”

“Ooohh, tell me about it.”

I spent the next couple of hours chatting with Gary about the fallout with our nuclear families and our love for our intimate, incestuous work families while I killed a bottle of white before Gary generously poured me a couple of glasses of premium Santa Barbara red, “on me”. Once again, I should’ve known better. Should’ve learned my lesson from the night before. Should’ve known that I was no longer a ‘made man’ to have one’s eye on, to watch out for, but a ‘marked man’, a mark, a target. Like a lost tourist to a pickpocket on Las Ramblas. Like a single straight who had wandered unbeknownst of what happens to a stray at The Asphalt, Flaming Saddles Saloon, or the EndUp: I was the mark.

“Hey Gary, it’s been great talking to you. Thanks for the wine but I should settle up. I got to get to dinner.”

“Alright, here you go.”

On the check was two house whites and one house red. $24. I put $40 in the book and handed it to him.

“Thanks again.”

“Sure. And hey, after dinner, come back for a nightcap. I’ll be here until eleven. Or better yet, meet me hear then and I’ll take you to some bars where only the locals and industry know.”

The service trap was set and felt myself descending into the depths of another bar well.

*  *  *

“So Hutty, sorry to report but I don’t think Pablo’s going to be making this one.”

“Well, fuck him then. Speaking of gay ass Paul, do you think he went out with that guy and did some dirty deeds?”

“I don’t know. And there’s nothing that I can’t get out of him if you give him enough blue agave and smoking greens but he’s been standing pat for years with that fucking cliche; what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Also, he has some gay tendencies like all that Top Chef, art history, wine, Oscar Wilde. And what’s that dirty Spaniard’s name, that director, Pedro Almodovar? Pretty queer. But, you know, I’ve known him since seventh grade. I’ve seen nearly twenty years of his porn collecting habits, there’s some strange shit in there. But it’s all straight. He’s a vagitarian.”

“Ok , but I still wouldn’t put it past him. You know him. You never know what kind of depressing drunken depravity he could get into on a holiday bender.”


“Alright, but he’s kind of a faggot for not making it at least to Vegas for the Bachelor Party. And I don’t get he’s still living there with those kimchi-culos. So, what, he’s got a one-way on the yellow bus like all those other losers out there? Is that his thing now?”

“Not that I’m aware of. If he mentions any trim out there its either Kiwis, Canadians, or midwestern girls.”

“Well still, Paul’s cut. I guess you’ll slide into his spot and you just won the bridesmaid sweepstakes.”

“Yeah? Alright then! Thank you, Tibet.”

One Shining Moment: March Madness, Epilogue


By Pablo Harris

3am was the loneliest time for Paul on the deserted streets amidst the hundreds of high-rise condos in Myeongji New Town. But it was there, in those late nights/early mornings, that he always felt a contented kind of loneliness. So he walked down to the Family Mart, dropped W12,000 on a calling card that would give him 47 minutes to call the West Coast and cracked a tall boy of Cass. He walked down to the water and sat on a concrete wall along the estuary of the Nakdong and began to dial.  

A growly voice answered with a simple, “Hell-low?”  

“Hey, Big T, it’s Pablo. What up, man?”  

“Ehrmm, yeah, what’s up man?”  

“Not up to much, just checking on you, man. It’s been a while.”  

“Yeah, it’s been a while. But, yeah, I’m good.”  

“Cool. You know, just checking, wondering; how’d the rest of Hutty’s bachelor party, Vegas weekend go?”  

“Ah shit, man. Yeah, I told you that Raj ordered up a couple of kind Vagitarian Delight pies to Hutty’s suite, yeah?”  

“Yes you did.”

“Ah, Ginger, yeah, we would’ve had to restrain you from her.” 

“Yeah you told me that, too.”

“Shit, I know I called you from the Caesar’s sportsbook but I don’t know what we talked about. I just know sittin’ there all day, bettin’, drinkin’, and watching all those games, hoping to hit a parlay.  And with all the pony madness going on. It’s a fucking beautiful strange magic. Wish you were there, brotha.”  

“I can imagine the magic, the nervous energy which turns to excitement in direct proportion with how many bloodies and Heinekens are drunk, then the bitterness after buying a few Jame-os because a piddly exacta finally came in and the parlay hasn’t been totally blown yet and you think your luck has changed. And here comes the heat streak but no dice Chino, ‘colder than a well-diggers ass’. Yeah, March Madness and ponies, I’m sure that’s pretty cool and if I was there with all you guys, all that action, all those titty balls, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. But, actually, I did a little gambling of my own that weekend.”

“Oh yeah. Tell me about it.”

* * *

The road out of Tongyeong was at a standstill. Paul and Ellie both felt chills from the palpably frozen silence. After what seemed like hours, Ellie finally broke the ice.

“It’s going to take over three hours to get home. And I just want to go home.”

“Well, yeah, but we’re stuck here. Maybe then… Maybe we should talk about what happened at lunch?”

“I don’t know. Why? Why did you snap at me like that? You were really mean and I’m so foolish for thinking that you really cared.”

“Look, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I snapped. At first, I was excited to hear my boy call me but then it sent me on a weird one. Big T was giving me shit for not being at this bachelor party and not being in this wedding coming up. And then, well, I feel remorse for not being there last month when his father died. And where was I last year when my Aunt Cecelia, my favorite aunt, passed away? Sometimes, I can’t be there for my family and my best friend when they need me and it eats me up. I don’t know how to deal with it. I either deal with grief and regret by drinking on the quiet or lashing out at someone and I’m sorry for that. And maybe I freaked out because I’m scared of falling for you and don’t know when I’m going home again because I’m stoked here. With you. In Busan. In Korea. And my life here. I don’t know how to deal with these conflicts and, even worse, don’t know how to deal with happiness.”

Ellie unclasped the belt and leaned over, placed her hand on his knee, and kissed his neck three times. She smiled and comfortably retreated to her seat.

“Yeah, sweetheart, let’s get home, make out, and make up.”

“Yeah, but this Sunday traffic is the worst. I told you It’s going to take over 3 hours to get home.”

“Nah, this will break soon, it’s gotta break soon, right?”

“I think it’s going to take a few hours to get home.”

“Nah, relax, it’ll break.”

“Do you wanna bet on it?”

“Yeah, Ellie, didn’t know that you were a gambler but, sure. Let’s bet.”

“Ok, how should we do it?”

“Well, maybe an ‘over-under’ bet?”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you pick a time, like say, 2 hours in traffic, and then I bet whether we’ll be in traffic for over 2 hours or under 2 hours, if I’m right, I win. If I choose wrong, you win.”

“Ok, but how about you pick the time and I pick over or under?”

“Ok, I say we are going to be stuck in this jam for one hour.”

“We are definitely going to be in traffic for over an hour, you are going to lose my friend, I pick ‘over’.”

“Ok, bet’s on.”

“How do we know when traffic’s break and someone has won and lost?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll just know.”

About 15 minutes went by, they’d moved maybe 3 miles or so, Paul asked: “You know, we never said what we’re playing for, like what do I get if I win?”

“Well, whatever you want.”

“Let me be clear,  ‘whatever I want’?”

“Yeah, and I get whatever I want when I win.”

“Wow, you are a gambler, Babe.”

“Maybe. I am Korean, you know.”

“Great. Now move out of the way you mother fuckers!”

“Paul, jeez.”

“Sorry, uh, I don’t like to lose.”

“Either do I but you don’t have to yell at these people. Anyway, they’re not going anywhere and we’re not going anywhere for a long time.”

“Son of  whores,” Paul swore dejectedly under his breath.

“I heard that. Anyway, what do you want if you win?”

“Do you really have to ask?”

“Really? Guys are so simple, come on.”

Paul just shrugged and nodded.

“Well, what do you want if you win?”

“I don’t know, but it’s going to be nasty.”

“Hell yeah!”

“No, not like that. I can’t pick anything sexual because you’ll just like it. It’s going to be nasty as in really mean, nasty.”

“Yeah, like what?”

“I don’t know yet, I got to think about it. How about at 4:30 we’ll say what will be our prizes.”

“Good idea, I suppose I should try thinking a bit instead of just going with the usual go-to.”

“What’s your usual go-to?”

“Tell you at 4:30.”

Another fifteen minutes go by, another 3-5 miles, then Ellie inquired about the prize: “So what is it you want if you win?”

“Well, I decided I can’t just go with my go-to blowjob with -”

She interrupted, a bit perturbed, “Come on! I just gave you a blow job yesterday, I give you blowjobs all the time!”

He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow.

“Ok, maybe not all the time but I’m not shy about it either.”

“Fair enough. You are right and that’s why I decided I can’t just choose a blowjob for this victory but you didn’t let me finish what I was going to say: a blowjob with your glasses on.”

What he really wanted to request as his reward was a facial on her glasses a la but figured it’s too early in whatever you call this relationship to go for that.

“Jeez, do glasses really matter that much to you?”

“We’ll discuss that later. Back to the issue at hand. So, like I was saying, I couldn’t go with the usual because you did such a good job of taking care of me yesterday and I thought about making you dress up and do something special for my birthday -”

“Dress up how?”

“Haven’t figured it out yet. But then I thought it’s my birthday, I shouldn’t have to use my capital from winning a bet on my birthday.”

“True, it’s your birthday, it’s your day and it only happens once a year.”

“Then I thought about making you spend the night with me tonight because you’ve never slept with me on a school night and last night was great and I just ate a ton of raw fish and oysters this weekend, you know what that does to me -”

“All right, tell me already, come on!”

“Do you know ‘Spanish-style’?

After about 45 white-knuckle, sweaty-palm nervous minutes, Paul saw the freeway split: one way going up through the middle of the country through Daejeon to Seoul, the other, a veer to the right onto the Namhae Highway to Jinhae, Masan, Busan, up the coast to the DMZ. As he hit the on-ramp he got over 40km for the first time in three-quarters of an hour. 46 minutes after the clock had started, he was doing 120km.

She conceded. Paul raised one finger in the air and triumphantly proclaimed, “Winner, Winner, baby-oiled breasts for dinner!”

“So, Spanish-style, uh, does that mean, like, titty fuck?”



“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t like my breasts. My mom says they’re too big because she says I’m fat.”

“Ridiculous. Just because a tall, curvy girl in all the right places gets judged for somehow being overweight? Bullshit.”

“And, really, that’s what you want for your birthday?”


“Such a boob guy! But I’m glad you are.”

* * *

Big T sarcastically replied to Paul, “That’s great, Pablo. And I thought I was a big winner because I left Vegas only down a couple hundy.”


“And now you’re going to do some perverted shit to this poor girl. I know you, you sick fuck. I fucking hate you now more than ever.”

“Yep. I understand.”