At night I hear them coughing through the ventilation ducts. In Vegas the night–or at least the early morning–is for recuperating. The days they’ve spent borrowing against their savings to play their futile games of chance, but they’ve also been borrowing against their lungs to sit in the smoke pits long enough to finish the job. An air-breather, I am an outsider here–even in Vegas, such a cliche that it’s a cliche to write about it being so.

But I can’t help but note that the people here truly struggle. Spending their paychecks is the easy part. Here they struggle to breathe, taking care to cough through their noses so that they can take a deep drag on the butt hanging from their lip on the next inhale. They struggle to walk on betrayed joints of shattered glass, working their arms like they’re conducting an invisible shell game just to keep their balance.

This struggle goes on all around me, truly defiant to that pull of chaos, as these phantom limbs itch into the night. The transaction is savings into coffers, and the only middleman is time. Nothing else is truly gained or lost, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. They pay for the privilege of time spent, and will pay until there’s nothing left. But in this is also something pure and primal. And there is vulgarity in such debasement. Nothing personal, your money for your time, it says. They’re curling back into fetal balls, tiny cocoons twitching on their twigs.

I can only see it right now because I’m an outsider right now. But how easy would it be to just forget?

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