Blog: A stranger in Las Vegas

Jamie Winpenny

“Saturday night palsy.”

Doctor Hua’s Chinese accent was diluted and obviously informed by years of treating the dregs of Las Vegas at the University Medical Center. I was in the emergency room there, not six hours after flying in for a week of rock and roll shows at an Irish pub in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. My left arm had become useless after I fell asleep on it during the flight over. For a guitar player with a family history of strokes and heart problems, it was cause for alarm.

An old touring mate told me later that the condition is also known as “The Stranger,” a euphemism I continue to find chilling. It feels like someone else’s arm.

I am an unrepentantly bad flier, inveterate in my unwillingness to engage in air travel without copious amounts of booze and pharmaceuticals in my blood. I’ve been doing it for a long time, and up until this trip, my approach has gotten me to and from wherever it is I’ve been off to unscathed, unbothered, and without incident. That streak is over.

“Sometimes when people have been drinking,” explained Dr. Hua, “they will fall asleep on their hand or arm, causing nerve damage. It can result in numbness and paralysis for hours, days, or even weeks.” He prescribed me a course of steroids to speed the recovery of the damaged nerve, which made me ravenously hungry for a week and foul with pungent body odor. Hot flashes in the desert are profoundly unpleasant. It was premature man-opause.

Hua was breezy but not unconcerned, and ordered a blood test that I passed with flying colors. Lots of them. Five hours later I was back at the Mandalay Bay, whimpering internally like a dog that has shit in the kitchen after being locked inside for too long. My bandmates were nobly concerned and understanding. What are you going to do? Management at the venue was similarly accommodating, affording me a brace of free Carlsburg lagers and a slab of haddock I could have used as a delicious doorstop.

We had arrived early on the first day and the condo provided by the venue was not yet ready, so we booked a couple of cheap rooms at the Hooters Casino to hole up for a night. Because we had taken a red-eye from Honolulu, we were all shattered and badly needing a nap before showtime (I was holding onto hope that I’d be able to play my guitar, despite The Stranger. I wasn’t.)

Before going down for a nap, I went down to the pool area at Hooters for a smoke and possibly to gawk openly at what I was sure would be a scene one could reasonably expect at a Hooters casino in Vegas. What I encountered, though, was a sad little meat show of middle-aged punters who can’t afford The Strip and are content to act out a cheap Las Vegas fantasy under the massive, lurid sneer of David Copperfield at the MGM Grand across the street. Dignity. Now you see it, now I don’t.

I was able to thump out a few bass lines on the second night, and tried to do my part by otherwise going with a Vegas emcee schtick that actually worked. I pulled blue-hairs from their tables and onto the dancefloor, and conducted my bandmates with a mock-drunken bravado that lit smiles on their faces and in the eyes of the native Irish manager of the pub. By the third night, The Stranger had become more familiar and I was able to resume my duties as a functioning guitarist.

The venue recruits much of its staff out of Ireland, and all of the employees are quick witted and affable. Fitzy, a young man from County Offaly, Ireland’s West Virginia, came in on his night off to participate in a fundraiser that saw people pay for the chance to see him get his legs waxed for a charity that looks after children living in homes that are food-insecure. He’d been in America for only a few months, and for the first time. He got properly drunk. I ponied up 20 bucks for four strips of wax.

“Did ye see me last night, Jamie?” he asked the next day.

“Maybe half of you,” I said.

“Well I sure as feck saw two of youse, ya hole!” he quipped. “What’ll ye have?”

“A Guinness,” I answered. “And a whiskey for my new friend.” I pointed to my left arm.

“Good man,” said Fitzy.