Read an Excerpt from K.L. Cook’s Essay “Las Vegas Transcendentalists” in AJ’s Gallery 2015 ON SALE NOW

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From K.L. Cook’s Essay “Las Vegas Transcendentalists”

There are times in our lives when we are ripe for transformation.

The job looked simple enough. The “boys” brought towels to the guests, took their drink or snack orders, rubbed suntan lotion on their backs. Most of the sunbathers were older women, wearing one-piecers and straw hats and big sunglasses, fruity umbrella drinks in hand. A few bikinied women flipped themselves regularly like hamburgers on a grill. The cash, sometimes fives and tens, changed hands, the “boys” palming the cash easily, slipping the bills in cocktail glasses behind the bar, the money adding up, even in the few minutes I was there. My father suggested that fortunes might be made at this job, that the bigger the winnings, the larger the tips. “I know valets who make as much as lawyers and shrinks,” he said.

I felt a familiar sense of inadequacy about my tall, skinny, relatively hairless frame. The pool boys were all in their twenties, their faces and chests stubbled, sideburns fluffing their jawbones, wearing Hawaiian trunks and white Caesar’s Palace T-shirts, laughing raunchily at the bar with a pretty bartender. This pool wasn’t very large or deep, and it was hard to imagine having to rescue anyone the way I had earnestly practiced in my YMCA classes. I tried to imagine myself doing what these men were doing; it didn’t seem hard. I’d been a motivational speaker at six, telling inspirational stories to lure people into my parents’ cosmetics pyramid scheme, a “breast batterer” at a fast-food chicken place at fourteen, a movie projectionist at a non-union theatre at fifteen, a barback at a country and western nightclub at sixteen, and I had for the past year made and scooped ice cream and built sandwiches at a Swensen’s. Everywhere I’d worked, I’d been among the youngest there, usually too young, and that had never made much of a difference. But this was Las Vegas. This was Caesar’s Palace. A small fish in a too large pond—or pool.

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