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Arnold Palmer died today. The news anchor announces it on the TV hanging in the corner as I’m dealt a pair of 9’s at a Jacks or Better machine. Suddenly it doesn’t matter that the news anchor previously stated an unarmed twelve-year-old boy was shot dead by a police officer for stealing a Snickers bar. It doesn’t matter that I'm a middle-aged white man who travels an hour and a half from Mesquite to Las Vegas five times a week to play high-stakes video poker and hasn't won in fourteen days. And it doesn't matter that the AC blasting on the casino floor at the Wynn doesn’t cool my sweat stains from the arid desert heat outside. All that matters, even though I haven't heard his name in years, is that Arnold Palmer is dead.

“Are you okay, buddy?” the man sitting at the machine next to me asks. “You look like you’re going to cry,” he pauses, trying to look over at my screen. “Your hand can’t be that bad.”

“He died,” I say.

“Who died?”

“Arnold Palmer.”

“What?” the man asks, laughing.      

I repeat that Arnold Palmer died and I explain how he was a trailblazer, how his humble background and plain-spoken popularity helped change the perception of golf from an elite, upper-class pastime to a more populist sport accessible to middle and working classes, how he single-handedly transcended the game of golf, took it from one level to a whole new higher level, and I keep talking about Arnold Palmer, my eyes welling with tears, mentioning that between 1960–1963 he won 29 PGA Tour events when the man interrupts me. 

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” he says.

I imagine cracking the screen in front of him by slamming his head into it, like hurling a bowling ball into an old TV. But my hands are trembling and then my head starts to spin and my stomach tightens. And I have to grip onto the video poker machine in order to keep myself from passing out. I manage to swallow a few Valium and then decide to go find Tim, my fifteen-year-old son, and Natalia, my second wife. I told them to come to Vegas with me today so we could spend time as a family but they haven’t left the pool all day and the sun is too hot. They used to spend the weekends with me in Vegas when Tim was younger. We would ride the High Roller Ferris wheel and the Big Apple roller coaster and we’d get lunch at the Rainforest Cafe where Tim would order the fish sticks and we’d watch the volcano erupt outside the Mirage and see the hammerhead sharks and stingrays glide overhead at the Mandalay Bay aquarium. At some point, Natalia would go on a shopping spree. And I’d spend all night gambling, racking up enough points so the whole weekend would be free—everything comped, not only the valet fee.

I’m walking across the red floral carpeted casino floor toward the pool when the fire alarm goes off. The sprinklers aren’t activated and I don’t see any flames and I don’t smell anything burning but the alarm is ringing, roaring, and the bellboys and concierges and all the employees are calmly escorting people out. The first thing that comes to mind is: someone is robbing the casino. This is a decoy. A way to get everybody out. I think about how often casino robberies happen. The New York-New York incident: where the suspect held up the cage at gunpoint and ran off with $30,000 but got caught because he hailed a taxi. The Bellagio robbery: when a masked man stole $500,000 worth of cash and chips but was caught because he visited the casino a month earlier with the same car. The Cosmopolitan: hit three times by the Senior Pastor of the Grace Bible Church of Las Vegas who brandished a fake gun and finally got caught because it was an inside job with his wife, the shift manager. I try to think about the last casino fire but nothing comes to mind besides the infamous MGM grand fire in the ‘80s where over 80 people died. The odds that this is a robbery are higher.

“Everybody please calmly exit the building this way,” a security guard announces. I try walking discreetly in the opposite direction, away from the crowdif this is a robbery, somebody in the crowd will most likely be taken as a hostage or fall victim to crossfire. I hate crowds. You’re like a sitting duck. I don’t get very far, not even past the baccarat tables, when another security guard, some short Mexican guy, stops me. 

“I’m lost,” I say.

“This is not an exit,” he says, before escorting me out.

Outside, casino customers and hotel guests are standing beneath palm trees on the sun-soaked sidewalk, holding as many chips as they could have grabbed off the tables. Firetrucks arrive on the scene and firefighters rush into the Wynn in their molded sponge rubber looking like the creature from the black lagoon as everybody else waits impatiently in the baking afternoon. Howard, the casino manager, walks over to the chief firefighter. Howard is French and his real name is Jean-Jacques Apollinaire de la Guard-du-Nord but he got sick of Americans butchering it when he came to the U.S. so he changed it to Howard. He told me, one night over sushi and sake, that he picked the name after Howard Stern, even though they look nothing alike. Howard has short, curly gray hair and an elephant seal-like nose and I’ve never seen him wear the same suit twice.  

A security guard shouts for everyone to clear the entrance. People shuffle away and some man with a ten-gallon cowboy hat drops several of his chips and another man, one with a handlebar mustache, picks them up but he doesn’t hand them back and a scuffle breaks out. The security guard tries to break it up but the man with the ten-gallon cowboy hat accidentally punches the security guard and the security guard then starts pounding him to the floor. The man with the handlebar mustache joins the security guard and they team up on him, kicking him while he’s down. A firefighter lights a cigarette and laughs. Howard then steps in and breaks it up. An androgynous street performer wearing red overalls, an eyepatch, and an orange mullet wig is singing, “Is there life on Mars?” but he’s out of key and nobody pays attention to him. And I don’t know if it’s the Valium I took earlier or the still heat or the queer lyrics of this song but everything feels like that melting clock in the desert. A woman talking to her pet iguana. A hand sliding up a poinsettia-patterned skirt. Two Elvis impersonators tossing dice on the pavement. The kid of some Dutch family taking a picture with Batman and Batman aggressively telling the family to pay him his five bucks and the family trying to communicate something in broken English and Batman shouting with his fists in the air that they belong on a farm. The firefighters exit the casino with their oxygen tanks intact and announce it was a false alarm.

“Natalia is worried about you,” Tim says, showing up out of nowhere, a towel wrapped around his neck, his blue bathing suit dripping.   

I don’t say anything, just stand there, looking out into the distance.

“Did they put out the fire?” Tim asks.

“Arnold Palmer died,” I say.   

I wake up, staring at the ceiling, wondering if Arnold Palmer’s death was a nightmare, and reach for my phone on the nightstand to check the news. It wasn’t. The digital alarm clock reads one in the afternoon. Tim is in school. Natalia is probably at her Zumba class. I think about driving to Vegas but instead sink my face into the pillow and try to fall back asleep, telling myself this is the nightmare. My mouth is dry and itching and the sun peering through the Venetian blinds is bright so I get up, walk over to the bathroom, and drink some cold water from the faucet. I stare at the mirror for a while, notice my bald spot and the bags under my eyes, and contemplate showering but the idea of getting wet turns me off and instead I grab a pill bottle out of the mirrored cabinet and swallow a few Valium. Downstairs, I shut all the shades, take out an old slice of pepperoni pizza from the fridge, heat it up in the microwave, sit on the couch in my boxers, and eat it while staring at the black television screen. I feel the tomato sauce drip down my chin but I can’t get myself to stand up and grab a napkin from the kitchen so I just wipe my chin with my white T-shirt.

I drive to the strip mall in Mesquite and sit in the parking lot for a while, the heat from the sun warming the inside of the car, watching families unload big plastic bags off shopping carts, into their Buicks or Kias or Honda Civics, and then I walk into Target and the cool air conditioned store relaxes me and I try to buy a Coke but realize they only sell eight packs and I only want one so I leave empty-handed and wander aimlessly around the strip mall and then I find myself in a Jamba Juice and ask for an Arnold Palmer but the man behind the cash register informs me they don’t make that and then he asks if I’m okay and I tell him I’m just tired and order a Strawberries Gone Bananas instead and then in the parking lot I give it to a shirtless bum muttering how we’re all going to die from this heat wave and then I sit in my car and I notice the thermometer reads 104 degrees and blast the AC and look up the weather in other places around the world and it’s 74 degrees in Coronado and 80 degrees in Tahiti and 76 degrees in Cape Town and I stare at the palm trees shifting in the warm desert wind until some teenagers in an idling BMW honk at me for my spot and call me an asshole. 

I drive to the supermarket to buy some iced tea and lemonade so I can make myself an Arnold Palmer but I can't find the beverage section. I keep circling the same two aisles for what feels like an eternity until I end up getting lost and find myself back at the entrance. And I realize they now have a self-service checkout and this quells some of my anxiety because I won't have to engage in meaningless small talk with the loafer cashier and I won't have to lie when she asks in the most perfunctory manner “How are you doing today?” I walk up to the nearest stock clerk, a middle-aged woman with yellowing teeth, gray hair, and dirt stuck underneath her unpolished nails, the type of person who looks like she'd kill me if I had any opioids in my pocket, and I ask her where the beverage section is. She tells me aisle 18. There are 13 different lemonades; 15 different iced teas. There's even an Arizona already-made Arnold Palmer that’s a half-and-half version.

I remember one summer when I was ten, or maybe twelve, at Laguna Beach, my father introduced me to the drink, explained how it's a common misconception that it's half and half, how it's technically supposed to be two parts lemonade, one part iced tea. I remember thinking he seemed happy that day, his short, blond hair blowing in the wind, singing along to Sam Cooke's “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which blared out of our beat-up radio, as he danced with my mother under a Californian sun. “Excuse me,” a man says, walking past me. I'm still standing in this massive supermarket, staring at an endless wall of non-alcoholic beverages, and I can't decide which one to pick and my vision becomes blurry, to the point where I can no longer even tell the lemonades and iced teas apart. All I see is the glowing image of my father slow-dancing with my mother on that shimmering beach, and my eyes water up and for some reason, the supermarket feels like too much. I leave.